Gay Marriage, Religious Rights, and Freedom of Association

California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure aiming to outlaw same sex marriage, passed on a very close vote. Prop 8’s supporters* pushed a campaign of fear, misinformation, and a complete distortion of the meaning of individual liberty. This campaign commercial is typical of the intolerance and hysteria being promoted from the “yes” campaign.

Argument #1: Churches could be forced to marry gay people.

Argument #2: Religious adoption agencies could be forced to allow gay couples to adopt children; some adoption agencies would close their doors as a result.

Argument #3: Those who speak out against gay marriage on religious grounds will be labeled “intolerant” and subjected to legal penalties or social ridicule. Careers could be threatened.

Argument #4: Schools will teach students that marriage is between “party a” and “party b” regardless of gender. Schools also teach health and sexuality and would now include discussions of homosexuality.

Argument #5: There will be “serious clashes” between public schools and parents who wish to teach their children their values concerning marriage.

Argument #6: Allowing gays to marry will restrict or eliminate liberties of “everyone.” (Example: Photographers who do not want to work at same sex weddings)

Argument #7: If Prop 8 fails, religious liberty and free speech rights will be adversely affected.

My response to these arguments is that we should be advocating for more freedom for everyone rather than restrict freedom of a group or class of people. The state should recognize the same contract rights** for a gay couple as it would between a man and a woman. To get around the whole definition of marriage issue, I would propose that as far as the state is concerned, any legally recognized intimate relationship between consenting adults should be called a “domestic partnership.” From there the churches or secular equivalent to churches should have the right to decide who they will marry and who they will not (just as they do now).

Rather than subject an individual’s rights to a vote or either party forcing their values on the other, we should instead advocate freedom of association and less government in our everyday lives. Somewhere along the way, we as a people decided that the government should involve itself more and more into the relationships of private actors. The government now has the ability to dictate to business owners quotas of who they must hire, family leave requirements, how much their employees must be paid, and how many hours they work (among other requirements). For the most part, businesses which serve the public cannot deny service to individuals for fear of a lawsuit.

A return to a freedom of association society would remedy arguments 1, 2, 6, and 7 from this ad. As to Argument #3, the anti-gay marriage folks are going to have to realize that in a free society, they are going to have to deal with “social ridicule”*** or being called intolerant. Anyone who takes a stand on any issue is going to be criticized and called names. In a freedom of association society, an employer would have every right to decide to layoff individuals who hold views or lifestyles they disagree with.

While we’re on the subject of intolerance, perhaps we should take a moment to consider if people who would deny equivalent rights which come with marriage are intolerant. This ad is exactly the same as the previous ad except that the words “same sex” and “gays” have been replaced with “interracial.”

Believe it or not, there was a time in this country when there were such laws against interracial marriage. Those who argued against interracial marriage made very similar arguments to what the anti-gay marriage people are making now. Today most of us would say those people were intolerant.

Intolerance aside, Arguments 4 and 5 can also be answered by reducing the role of government in our lives. What the “yes” people should be arguing for is a separation of school and state. While we as a nation are trending toward more government involvement in K-12 education, those who do not want the government schools to teach their children the birds and the bees or enter into discussions of homosexuality can put their children in private schools which share their values or home school. School Choice is the obvious answers to these concerns.

Prop 8’s supporters have turned the whole idea of individual liberty on its head. They claim that in order to preserve the rights of the greatest number of people a minority of people necessarily must sacrifice their rights. This is absurd and dangerous. Perhaps it is this complete misunderstanding of individual rights among Californians which contributed to Prop 8’s passage.

When explained properly, the rights of life, liberty, and property is the easiest concept to understand.

Hat Tip: The Friendly Atheist

Posted Elsewhere:

Dan Melson @ Searchlight Crusade has written a very thought provoking post on this issue. Some of his arguments I agree with, others I don’t but all of his points are well argued.

*The Mormon Church among the strongest supporters; it seems ironic that a group which once promoted plural marriage is now advocating for marriage consisting of “one man and one woman.”

**Don’t even try to give me that tired slippery slope argument that “If we allow the gays to marry, what’s next? Will we then allow a man to marry his dog/cat/goat or an inanimate object?” Only an adult of sound mind can enter a contract; an animal or an inanimate object cannot.

***I’m not quite clear on what they mean on this point. Are they saying that people who disagree with them should not be allowed to criticize them or call them names? Does this mean that since Prop 8 passed they won’t have to deal with being called intolerant or subject to social ridicule? It seems the anti-gay marriage folks are trying to have it both ways on free speech.

  • Marco Luxe

    Loved the altered TV ad.
    However, your arguments don’t go directly to counter the lies of the 7 arguments you list. Most of them have been debunked by Mormon Harvard lawyer M. Thorton. “Religious Organizations Should Not Rely on False or Misleading Legal Arguments in their Zeal to Support California Proposition 8” and a prior article.

    I’ll summarize quickly:
    1. Churches don’t ever have to marry anyone they don’t want to, never have and never will regardless of prop 8.
    2. Private adoption agencies have their own placement policies and will continue. The Mormon adoption agency still has religiously restricted adoptions in MASS. Catholic charities voluntarily closed because they had a state contract to act as a public adoption agency and could not discriminate on the basis of religion or orientation. They had been successfully placing children with couples regardless of orientation until the local bishop put a stop to it. His call; children lose out.
    3. Prop 8 passed, and there’s more ridicule than ever of small minded bigots. Some Mormon employees have resigned because they have caused such a rift in their workplaces. The Mormon musical theater director… what was he thinking!?!? Oh wait, he wasn’t. It was the LDS hierarchy that was doing the “thinking” for him and other members.
    4&5. California schools that teach health have to follow state guidelines. All parents can remove their children from sex-ed. The guidelines before and after prop 8 are the same: they teach respect for comitted relationships of all varieties. The ads regarding prop 8 have done more to teach children about SSM than anything the schools could do. The hot topic on the playground among pre-teens is gay marriage. They get that it’s about equality and fairness more than ever.
    6. Businesses that offer services to the public have to do so without regard for race, marital status and orientation, etc. Doctors, photographers, reception halls etc. Prop 8 did nothing to change that. If you want to be a bigot, keep it out of the public marketplace. Yes, that’s a good thing.
    7. Horseshit! False claim of victimhood…learned from the Mormons who use victimhood as a fundraising and mind-control tactic.

  • thomasblair

    Social ridicule is a great thing.

    If Loving v. Virginia were couched as a ballot measure in 1967 (or even today), I’m not sure it’d pass.

  • Flex

    Excuse me, don’t tell me that I should get a domestic partnership. You get one. The federal government doesn’t recognize them, therefore no federal benefits. The opposition to gay marriage is nothing more than biblical at it core. The Zealot/bigots who oppose gay marriage are being pandered too by the status quo. We’re not going to accept it. We don’t have too. Under the united states constitution, we’re all created equal, and we are entitled to the pursuit of liberty, justice, and happiness. Through this we will win the equal benefits that we deserve!

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  • Quincy

    Flex –

    Funny you bring up federal benefits as part of your opposition to domestic partnerships, then appeal to the US Constitution. Under that document, the Fed Gov has no role doling out benefits to individuals, married, domestic partnered, or otherwise.

    For the purposes of government, a couple (or group) should only need to register a contract that deals with the legal aspects of becoming partners in a family. This should not be called marriage, and it certainly shouldn’t require a license or any such approval from government.

    As for government benefits, I’d simply ask Uncle Sam to stop taking chunks out of my paycheck to fund benefits for other people.

  • trumpetbob15

    Flex, I have a question for you. Do you support other minority groups being persecuted by the majority? I live in Michigan so I didn’t face this kind of vote, but it is outragous that I keep having to hear about how evil it is gay marriage is banned and yet California still outlaws smoking in bars and many cities ban trans-fats. What about those peoples’ rights? I just wish the gay marriage supporters would fight for liberty in ALL areas, not just marriage. Just remember, going by usual voting patterns, both opponents and a certain group of supporters of Prop 8 voted for a Presidential candidate who does not care about the right of successful people to keep what they earn. (The group of supporters are black people, a significant bloc voting “Yes” on 8.) Highly hypocritical from where I sit.

  • ZG

    I am for prop 8 because I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. However, I actually agree with the idea of making all marriages domestic partnerships and allowing religious organizations to decide who is or is not married in their eyes.

    I believe that civil rights should be equal but that marriage should not be an institution of the law but of a spiritual nature. There are a few religious groups that acknowledge same-sex-marriage and though I disagree with them, my disagreement is purely a theological one. Gays who are of those faiths should be free to be married in those churches.

    If each church defines marriage for themselves then it will only be a religious issue, like baptism or communion.

    I do however, believe then that faith based adoption agencies should be able to follow their own definition of marriage. So should industries involved in weddings (i.e. photographers, wedding planners…etc.)No one should have to use their business to support a religious ceremony with which they disagree.

  • Mark

    trumpetbob – While it would be great if all supporters of gay marriage would support liberty in all areas, the fact is that: 1. Some do, and 2. Demanding liberty for others is not a pre-requisite to demanding liberty for oneself; if it were, then we would either already live in libertopia, or (more likely) we would live in a truly totalitarian society in which any move towards liberty was a practical impossibility. Frankly, I am aware of too many people (basically all non-libertarians, and even many libertarians) who support liberty in some areas but not others to even think that their hypocrisy undermines their arguments when they are on the pro-liberty side of the equation.

  • trumpetbob15


    I guess I am just annoyed that everyone is supposed to jump on the “gay marriage bandwagon” just because it is somehow a civil right. Being able to enjoy the fruits of my labor is a much bigger civil right than whether the government recognizes two people as “married.” I have been using this issue to get people to focus on how my right to eat any food I choose (trans-fats and other fast food), my lifestyle choice of being “fat,” has just as much importance as two people being married. It just seems too many people see gay marriage as a civil right and are willing to be obnoxious about it but are blind to any other issues of non-liberty, and that is wrong.

    I guess it just comes down to the fact that I don’t respect a gay marriage advocate who votes for a “soaking the rich” tax increase. And frankly, if they don’t care when I lose liberty, exactly why should I care that they lost some of theirs? (Like Stephen, I also support marriage on the religious side and contracts for the state side.)

    Sorry if this got a little off-topic of this post.

  • Persnickety Curmudgeon

    OK “Marriage” is a God ordained institution. One cannot simply redefine it as “Gay Marriage” Shall we then have Gay Breathing, Gay Urination, Gay Menopause – HOW ABSURD.

    Now as to whether marriage ought to have State support or Civil Unions be coequal as to benefits have at the debate. I’m just a Pro-Life, Right-Wing, Christian, Conservative, Heterosexual, Capitalist Male. I’m all for tolerance. And as such keep you sexual habits and private lives private and I really don’t care what you do but parade it in my face and tout that deviant behavior as a good thing and – well – then you’ve kinda made it my business and invited my opinion.

    Ah but should we go down that path what have we to fear? We will simply join all the great nations of the past who embraced homosexuality. I mean there was…….uhhh well then there was…… and….uh…???…HMMM….can anyone think of a great Gay Empire in History I’m coming up a little empty here? On second thought, perhaps we ought to rethink this idea.

  • Joshua Holmes

    Who wants to be an empire? I want to be free.

  • Akston

    I’m reminded of Jefferson’s quote: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

    I agree with Tom. I also see consistency in extending that quote to sexual lifestyles and unions.

    Unless it actually does pick my pocket, of course.

  • ssssss

    Many people care this very much. They are discussing this on the forum of interracial dating site called i n t e r r a c i a l loves . c o m. Many people joined the discussion and debate there.

  • distributivejustice

    who cares about gays this much? the world happens to be ending and gay marriage is the issue of the day. that about sums it up.

  • Brad Warbiany


    Bread and circuses, my friend. Those running the show understand that if you let Toto pull back the curtain, you’ll realize that they’re mere mortals. They’d rather keep your attention elsewhere.

  • Stephen Littau

    DJ and Brad:

    I don’t see this as a small issue at all. A threat to liberty for any person or group is a threat to liberty for all. Once we accept the idea that liberties can be voted away no matter how small or unpopular the minority, we open ourselves up to have our liberties voted away.

    This reminds me of the Martin Niemoller poem “First They Came…”

    When the Nazis came for the communists,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a communist.

    When they locked up the social democrats,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a social democrat.

    When they came for the trade unionists,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not a trade unionist.

    When they came for the Jews,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a Jew.

    When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out.

    Please don’t misunderstand: I am not trying to compare Prop 8 to the Holocaust; far from it. I am not gay and I don’t have any friends who are. But just because I am not gay does not mean that my liberties are not in jeopardy. If we want others to stand up for our liberties, we must stand up for the liberties of others, even when our liberties don’t seem to be threatened.

  • Quincy

    Please don’t misunderstand: I am not trying to compare Prop 8 to the Holocaust; far from it. I am not gay and I don’t have any friends who are. But just because I am not gay does not mean that my liberties are not in jeopardy.

    Personally, as a straight man, I’d love to see gay marriage debate be used as a vehicle to shutter the institution of “marriage licensing” entirely.

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  • Brad Warbiany


    I don’t disagree. I have spoken in favor of gay marriage several times. I do have a few gay friends, including two couples who are in very committed long-term relationships. One of the points I make to my mother-in-law (a devout Catholic and foe of gay marriage) is that rather than abstract her opposition to some state proposition, I’d love for her to sit down with our friends Manny & Chuck and explain to them exactly why she thinks they shouldn’t be allowed to be married. It’s very easy to dehumanize the issue and talk about what “the gays” are trying to do. It’s a lot harder to try to play games with their rights when you put a face on it.

    All that being said, I view gay marriage as another step in the inevitable march of history. It may not happen for another 10 years (which will be unfortunate), but it will happen. The march towards liberty for gays is progressing. I think the point that DJ has, and I echoed, is that the march away from liberty for us all is also progressing. There are some major changes coming in the next several years, due both to the financial crisis and the election of Obama. We should be spending more time and effort fighting for those liberties we all enjoy, lest they be snuffed out.

    Here in CA, Prop 8 had more money spent on campaigning for/against than any other proposition on the ballot, and any other proposition in state history. I agree with you that it is important, but is it THAT important?

  • Stephen Littau


    Point well taken. It really is too bad that in 2008, gay marriage is such a big topic. I would argue that it’s the Christian conservative agenda that is pushing this nonsense not the gay agenda (though there has been overreaction and overreaching on both sides to be sure).

    With Obama and the Democrats having virtually complete control of the federal government, we certainly won’t have any shortage of issues to write about over the next 2 and 4 years. It’s just too bad the Republicans will continue these idiotic culture wars; we can’t ignore their idiocy either.

  • Persncikety Curmudgeon

    you know, funny how the lefties always violate others rights in order to promote their own or try to put a hierachy on them as if one was more important than another.

    Freedon of Association, Freedom of Assembly, Free Speech, Right to Vote, Freedom of Church FROM THE STATE(as originally constructed contrary to current pop propaganda, Federalism, the right of legislatures to limit the jursidictions of the courts, the right of the governed to chose their leaders and make their laws are all compromised in order to achieve a Gay Marriage construct.

    Opposed to Gay Marriage but wouldn’t be quite so much so if it could be achieved without destroying the rights of everyone else in the process.

  • tarran

    How exactly are my rights ‘destroyed’ when the state declares that the lesbian couple down the road are “married”?