There seems to be a lot of confusion among libertarians on how to handle the issue of marriage equality from a uniquely libertarian standpoint. Some suggest that the struggle to remove government from our personal lives requires more than equal marriage rights for same sex couples – I agree with them. Others adopt the all-or-nothing approach of opposing marriage equality now in favor of abolishing state marriage altogether – I disagree with these people.
Fortunately, the Libertarian Party’s platform makes its position clear:
Sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the government’s treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration or military service laws. Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships. Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships.
Let’s cut to the chase: The messages in italics are NOT in conflict with one another; it is true that government has no business in marriage to begin with, but the reality is that government IS involved currently, issuing benefits that are still denied for the sole reason of choosing to marry a person of the same sex. Rather than solely focusing on our long-term goal of removing government from marriage, Libertarians should applaud the striking of gay marriage bans as a step toward that goal. Sate-endorsed discrimination is government overreach at its worst. Ensuring marriage equality would deregulate that overreach.
Does the push for marriage equality make the idea of abolishing state marriage meaningless? Absolutely not. My hope is that The United States will return to a common law marriage system in which individuals would not be required to “ask permission” via license in order to establish a new legal next of kin. However, this must be done tactfully.
Recently, Rep. Todd Russ (R) of Oklahoma received much praise from libertarians after he introduced a bill with the intent of getting county court clerks out of the duty to officiate marriage ceremonies. He admits this was a response to a federal court striking down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage and the fear that the Supreme Court would uphold that ruling later this summer. The problem with his solution is that it would not allow same-sex marriage recognition given Oklahoma’s state constitutional amendment banning such unions.
Libertarians who want the “state out of marriage” come in a number of flavors, some genuinely want to liberate all types of families from the clutches of the state, but quite a few more are just masking their discomfort with equality in that rhetoric. We should not confuse the reactionary tactics of those who fear equality under the law with those that strive for progressive libertarian solutions.
So next time a self-proclaimed libertarian refuses to accept the incremental approach of supporting marriage equality before abolishing state marriage altogether, remember this…