I’ll start off by saying, I’m not totally agnostic on gay marriage, but I’m pretty close. I think both sides argue the wrong points in turn, and since I’ve never really felt the need to appeal to the government for validation (let alone validation of my personal relationships), I say let the chips fall where they may.
In fact, the more libertarian I become (by the day, it seems), the less I care, frankly about gay marriage. My partner and I love each other and we don’t need a government stamp nor piece of paper to make it official. Heck, even if we didn’t have the support and acknowledgement of our family and friends (we, ftr, do), we’d be content just to “watch the world die”, so to speak, our love strong as it is.
Personal mushyness aside, however, Reason‘s Scott Shackford has me confused today. Fair enough, his post last week on the site’s Hit & Run blog (which I read habitually and I recommend to you as well) is after all entitled “The Libertarian Gay Marriage Paradox“. But it seems to me the paradox is misplaced.
He first suggests that the actual libertarian argument against gay marriage (that marriage as an institution itself isn’t any of the government’s business) “is indeed a conclusion, not an argument”, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. In fact, it’s the argument supporting basically all libertarian positions, isn’t it? It’s the one I use all the time on a wide range of issues.
Be that as it may, he goes on to build then knock down a strawman libertarian argument that doesn’t exist, to wit: “Opponents of gay marriage recognition are not arguing for smaller government; quite the opposite” because, he suggests opponents feel “we need government to make certain that humanity continues to procreate.” Sure, social conservatives are making that argument, but do you know of any libertarian who’s saying that? I sure wouldn’t. “Paradox”? I don’t see it.
What is paradoxical, however, is his approach to support for gay marriage:
He cites the HRC’s list of “1,138 federal benefits, rights, and protections granted on the basis of marital status.” This is a canard that has been used by the likes of HRC and other statist organizations to rile up anger in the gay community, vis-a-vis: Look how you’re being denied all these things that others are getting!
Correctly, he seems to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the list (“That’s just the federal stuff. State policies add even more.”), and daunted by what that means with respect to overreach into our lives, and even concedes that “[g]etting the government out of marriage is not something that’s just going to happen someday…it’s going to take a lot of work.”
His solution to the hard work of eliminating this wrong-headed governmental meddling in the personal lives of Americans (a “conclusion” with which he seems to agree)? Expand this wrong-headed governmental meddling in the personal lives of Americans to include same-sex couples. Okay then.
What’s most rich about Mr. Shackford’s thesis is that he believes the expansion of the institution of government marriage to include gays and lesbians will somehow bring about an awareness of—and an opposition to—just this type of governmental interference:
Opening up marriage highlights how much regulation the government’s “stake” in overseeing our nation’s breeding habits has brought forth. How many federal employees are responsible for overseeing the application of all these family-based regulations? How much money could we save if the government abandoned its role in determining what constitutes a family and the various subsidies and socially engineered regulations it has wrought?
That should make the argument in favor of gay marriage recognition even more compelling to libertarians. If gay marriages end up damaging or breaking our labyrinthine tax code, we should be cheering it on. Choke on all those tax credits, Leviathan!
Um, yea. Because Lord knows that expanding Medicare to include drug benefits convinced all those enrolled that the overhead costs and intrusive inquisitions by the feds weren’t worth…free stuff. And of course President-Elect Mitt Romney will testify that back-breaking debt due to an unsustainable government trough will surely cause a backlash against run-away governmental interference in our lives.
While his aims are noble (and similar to mine), I’d say his belief that his approach would work is at best fanciful. Mr. Shackford and I, as gay libertarians both, have a shared ideal of blind justice and a small government. We both (it would appear) agree that extracting the government from marriage altogether would be preferable. But he can’t be serious in this argument, can he? I’d hope not, and he alludes in another piece today in USA Today that he gets it when he mentions (my emphasis added):
The case selected [against DOMA to be heard by the Supreme Court], Windsor v. United States, is about a woman unable to claim an estate tax deduction following the death of her female partner, with whom she was considered legally married in the State of New York. Technically the case could be reviewed without tackling the thorny issue of whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to demand government recognition of their marriages.
The injustice of this couple being treated differently from their straight contemporaries is not lost on me. That said, imagine if gay-marriage supporters dedicated as much energy toward (and campaigned for and supported candidates who were dedicated to) righting the larger injustice here: That the federal government seems to think it’s entitled to half your shit when you die in the first place!
That we live under a government which deigns to offer an exception to this confiscation for those who are married (or somehow otherwise participates in an activity that pleases it) should be an insult to all of us, not something we should strive to satisfy by expanding the definition of those who are ‘chosen’. Mother-may-I pleas of not being taxed into oblivion ‘because I’m-married-too‘ doesn’t echo of libertarian self-reliance to me. It sounds more like we’ve given up and just want what’s coming to us.
As I mentioned above, I’m mostly agnostic when it comes to gay marriage. It’s hard to argue that it’s not “illegal” anyway (knock yourself out, get married!), especially when the main rejoinder in favor of marriage is that anybody opposed must be full of “H8“ (or in my case, “selfH8”). Either way, it’s more of a render-unto-Caesar-type issue for me. But I’d ask the Mr. Shackfords of the gay-libertarian community (a community of which demographically I likely belong, but with which—as any ‘group’—I’m reticent to identify) to stick to their convictions.
Lord knows how ideological libertarians are (I should know, I’m one of them…and if you doubt it, ask my partner what it’s like to listen to me argue with someone about policy). Mr. Shackford’s approach seems counter-intuitive. Republicans pull their hair out trying to convince libertarians (big “l” and small) to vote for their candidate instead of (as their argument goes) “throwing it away” on someone like Gary Johnson. Forget Mitt Romney, isn’t supporting gay marriage (and the expansion of government reach that goes with it) with the expectation somehow that it will finally bring an end to intrusion in our lives a little more like that same libertarian voting for Barack Obama?
-Nick (ColoradoPatriot, from HHQ)