Monday, April 11, 2005

A Better Answer, Somewhat After the Fact.

Early last year there was a thread about Same Sex Marriage on a mailing list I follow -- a thread that went on for some time. The list (Triangle InterNetworkers) is an online community whose members live mostly in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina with the highest concentration coming from Chapel Hill. If you know much about Chapel Hill you will not be surprized to hear that when political issues come up on the list most of the posts will come from a liberal perspective. I was reading the Same Sex Marriage thread with some interest but not posting. (I often "lurk" on the political threads on the list, picking my battles because I will be outnumbered.)

Then came this posting where a newcomer to the list complained --
Mostly what I've seen is an endless supply of liberal "Me too, I agree" conversations. As a member of the dread, horrible, so-called "religious right" I am very disappointed to see all of this liberal chatter with not a single "core" member of the list willing to represent the opposing side.
-- and a Libertarian friend of mine responded --
Become that person then. Please, tell me why you think gay marriage should not be allowed. I'd love to hear more about why the government should be in the business of dictating what are essentially religious / moral principles, especially in light of the principle of separation of church and state.

I was unable to resist the dual temptations to -- 1) point out that there were a few of us on the list who were not left-wing ideologs. and 2) answer the rhetorical "I'd love to hear more about why ..." question -- so I jumped into the discussion here.

I'll spare you the details of the arguments that followed. They went on for several days and were great fun. (You can read them yourself if you like, just follow the links.) But, when it was over I am not sure I had done a very good job of satisfying my friend's curiousity about a rationalle for opposing Gay Marriage that would make sense from a Libertarian perspective.

I mention this because I recently read Jennifer Morse's piece in Policy Review that does a brilliant job, I think, of making a libertarian argument for a ban on same sex marriages. She makes many of the same points I did only she says it better. So, Phil, this is a little late but here you go.

I hesitate to quote too much of her piece because it should be read in its entirety. But this snippet, where she is laying out what she proposes to talk about might pique your interest --
This article is not primarily about gay marriage. It isn’t even about why some forms of straight marriage are superior to others. Rather, the purpose of this article is to explain why a society, especially a free society, needs the social institution of marriage in the first place. I want to argue that society can and must discriminate among various arrangements for childbearing and sexual activity.

The contrary idea has a libertarian justification in the background: Marriage is a contract among mutually consenting adults. For instance, libertarian law professor Richard Epstein penned an article last year called “Live and Let Live” in the Wall Street Journal (July 13, 2004). In it, he treated marriage as a combination of a free association of consenting individuals and an institution licensed by the state.

But the influence of the libertarian rationale goes far beyond the membership of the Libertarian Party or the donor list of the Cato Institute. The editors of the Nation, for instance, support gay marriage but do not usually defend the sanctity of contracts. This apparent paradox evaporates when we realize that the dissolution of marriage breaks the family into successively smaller units that are less able to sustain themselves without state assistance.

Marriage deserves the same respect and attention from libertarians that they routinely give the market. Although I believe life-long monogamy can be defended against alternatives such as polygamy, it is beyond the scope of a single article to do so. My central argument is that a society will be able to govern itself with a smaller, less intrusive government if that society supports organic marriage rather than the legalistic understanding of marriage.

There are a few parts where I would have liked her to say more, or where I have seen other people say things better, but it's not really a fair complaint since she was writing a brief article and I was picking a sentence here and there and comparing it to a book-length treatment of something tht was a side issue in her piece. In particular, I was reminded several times of ideas from "Persuit of Happiness" by Charles Murray. This is high praise, actually, since Murray's book is a favorite of mine.

I was also reminded of "Back to Patriarchy" by Daniel Amneus -- a linkage of which I doubt that Morse would approve since Amneus' book is, shall we say, somewhat too plain-spoken for modern sensibilities and, to be fair, Morse avoided saying any of the things that make Amneus' book incandescently radioactive.

If any of this made any sense to you, you might enjoy...

1 comment:

Michael Czeiszperger said...

The piece you quote from is interesting in that it is very long, and spends 95% of the time not talking about the issue, but then it must take very many words indeed for a libertarian to convince themselves that government should control personal and sexual relationships.

The only argument I can find in it that actually discusses the gay marriage issue is:

"Marriage is the socially preferred institution for sexual activity and childrearing in every known human society. The modern claim that there need not be and should not be any social or legal preference among sexual or childrearing contexts is, by definition, the abolition of marriage as an institution."

To me these two sentences betray the lack of a logical argument, and simply reinforce that the issue at hand is not one of libertarian principles, but rather an extension of the culture wars. She is saying that marriage is between a man and a woman because that's what she believes, and not a single point in the rather lengthy essay that addresses how having the state stay out of people's personal relationships would abolish marriage.

And then later she rather belated throws all logic out of the window and betrays any libertarian principle I can think of:

"It is high time libertarians object when their rhetoric is hijacked by the advocates of big government."

Ah, now she's betrayed herself. The first sentence makes it clear that she believes gay marriage is somehow linked to "big government", which is a reference to the radical conservative movement's attempt to divide the entire country into two camps, further evidence that the author is trying to engage in an irrational culture war rather than talk about libertarian ideals.

"Fairness and freedom do not demand sexual and parental license."

This thought more than any other shows how far she's betrayed those ideals.