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Marriage and the state: Part II

By Sean Turner
web posted December 22, 2003

In part one, I concluded with the opinion that the state (read the government at every level) should abstain from involvement in private agreements -- including marriage. Predictably, this struck a nerve with many conservative readers of the article, since the idea of "gay marriages" is inimical to many conservatives' deeply held beliefs regarding marriages and lifestyle choices. Nevertheless, this issue appears to defy efforts to load it cleanly into a partisan catapult to hurl recklessly into enemy territory, as is the fate of many other issues.

Republicans and Democrats alike are finding the prospect of gay marriages too bitter a pill to swallow, as reason becomes subordinate to fear. For many of the Democratic presidential candidates, it is a fear of losing the "mainstream" vote -- for others, it is an unfounded fear of the destruction of some "social order" here in America. Oddly enough, many of these same individuals are apparently devoid of fear of the continual destruction of individual freedoms.

The gay marriage debate has been injected with pointed opposition from blacks, who have encountered many comparisons drawn between this issue and the civil rights movement in America. Such comparisons have been denounced as outrageous by some -- claiming that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, while skin-color is not. It is pointless to manufacture some sort of discrimination hierarchy, where one considers (institutionalized) discrimination by race more odious than discrimination by sexual orientation. Ultimately, they are both discrimination by the state, and therefore violate individual liberties.

Since the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision, a number of conservative columnists have put forth a variety of arguments opposing gay marriages. Author and syndicated columnist Mona Charen believes that "if they insist that homosexual unions be sanctified, we have no choice but to resist". Exactly who is this "we" that she is referring to? How is this resistance to occur? If by saying "we", she is identifying herself and others of the same opinion with the state, then this implies that the "we" intends to use the state to impose their will, beliefs, and desires upon others. Surely, this isn't the "conservative" way -- is it?

Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Pubic Policy, writes the following in the Weekly Standard:

"Marriage was not just a private taste or a values issue or even a religious issue, it was one of the handful of core social institutions that make limited government, and a constitutional republic, possible."

Apparently, she and others are unaware of the definition of a limited government. The existence of private agreements, whether social or economic, unfettered by the state, is a sine qua non of freedom -- which is what a limited government allows. Any government that uses its monopoly power of law enforcement to restrict private agreements is limited only by the ability of those in the majority to impose their will on the citizenry.

It is also worth noting the pervasiveness of the word "institution" among opponents of gay marriages when discussing the issue. This is not coincidental. It indicates a thinly veiled attempt to place certain private contracts -- in this case, marriages -- within the purview of the state, by separating it from other private agreements. Referring to marriages as "institutions" is simply a diversion from acknowledging that marriages are indeed private social agreements.

It is quite natural and understandable to possess differing opinions and positions based on various philosophical, moral, or religious beliefs. However, one cannot claim to believe in and support freedom, while in the same breath, advocating the restraint of private agreements by government fiat.

Sean Turner is a member of the Project 21 Advisory Council of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a regular columnist for RenewAmerica.us, GOPUSA.com, MensNewsDaily.com, and a contributor to a number of news and political websites. His commentary has also appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the Washington Times. Readers can email him at seanreplies@yahoo.com.

Other related articles: (open in a new window)

  • Marriage and the state by Sean Turner (December 15, 2003)
    Conservatives and liberals are now in the midst of a battle to determine how the state should define marriage. Sean Turner believes that the debate should be over something else entirely
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