Gay Marriage, Religious Rights, and Freedom of Associationby Stephen Littau
(Re-post: originally posted November 23, 2008)
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
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.