I’ve been trying to keep out of the gay marriage business, firstly because I don’t care too much about it and secondly because no one involved in decision-making pays any attention to my opinion anyway, so I feel no responsibility for advancing my own version of the truth. However, I am getting rather bored hearing about it, and somewhat concerned that a particular position on the matter is being trumpeted as ‘The Libertarian Position’. Like most libertarians, I cede no prerogative to any other, to tell me what my opinion is.
What is bothering me is to see the issue being pushed using the tactics of the so-called liberal left, as have been employed with such things as global warming. With this latter, we were informed that the discussion had already taken place, all the scientists and experts had decided and nobody better challenge “the consensus”. That time it was; agree, or be labelled a “denier”, a word chosen for its connotative link to holocaust denial. This time you will be a “gay-hating bigot”.
Besides the ad hominem, I note the same studied manipulation of language, ergo; “equal marriage” – who could be against equality, after all? – and a kind of ‘false memory syndrome’ in which marriage, rather than describing a contract, sealed in the marital bed, between a man and a woman (even in the case of polygamy and polyandry this remains the same) becomes a social institution between any two people, from which gay couples have been unfairly and inexplicably excluded. This latter may be how it is seen today, but only because the word has been stripped of much of its earthy meaning, and paradoxically given the times we live in, the gay marriage lobby are the ones playing Victorian prude on the subject, wishing to bowdlerise the definition.
Holy Matrimony as it used to be (from ‘La Reine Margot’)
So what is the “correct” libertarian position? Let us distinguish two separate issues; firstly with regard to gay marriage and secondly with regard to the current government’s plans to change the marriage laws. In the first case, it must surely be the case that the libertarian position is thus; it’s a private matter between consenting adults. It’s nobody else’s business. If two men or two women, or indeed any other permutation of humanity, wish to join themselves by contract, and become a family, that is their own affair, and no violence – whether of mob or state – should be used to prevent them.
As for the second issue, although many will do so, I see no obligation on a libertarian to actively support or defend the government’s plans. For one reason, because the Civil Partnerships Act has provided a means for two people of the same sex to be married in all but name, and if they wish to call themselves married, whatever the wording of the law, who’s stopping them? For another reason, the government’s action does not seem to be advancing the libertarian goal of reducing state power and interference, rather it could be seen as yet another inroad into private matters which are no business of the state. I may be wrong in this, the plans may be merely removing barriers and interference which the state has in the past erected. In this case, perhaps a libertarian should support it. But can we have any confidence that the government knows what it is doing, and that it will not, through ignorance and a lack of foresight, leave the law in a worse state than it found it? The libertarian aim should be to push the state out of all involvement in the private affairs of individuals, whether married or not, heterosexual or not, and it is unclear that the proposals are moving in this direction. Libertarians should be wary of government solutions to social problems, real or contrived. The liberals of the 19th century went astray when they ceased pursuing “negative liberty” through reduction of state power, and began pursuing “positive liberty” through redirection (and thus enlargement) of state power.
One final thing must be said, regarding priorities. As I look at the state of the law in this country, I see a criminal justice system which delivers little justice; victims with no recompense; perpetrators of vile crimes receiving no punishment worthy of the name, the public unprotected and a judiciary who seem to have arrived from another planet. Additionally, there are still the many drug laws, vice laws etc., which need abolition. The civil law is no better. Unless you are wealthy to start with, you may as well forget it. This is, at least, my experience. If I was in government and had the opportunity, to seek reforms, this gay marriage issue would be a long way down the list.
I shall now retire to my hermitage on the matter.