Thursday, April 30, 2009

John Derbyshire's Case Against Marriage Equality

As a strongly secular libertarian and conservative, I normally agree with Derbyshire; in particular I admire his writing on China. But I disagree with his secular case against gay marriage.

In an ideal libertarian world, the government would have no power to say anything about who you choose to spend your life with - it's a contract between two people, and between them only. Not coincidentally, Ayn Rand revivalists, it's this relationship, among the most basic of human bonds, that is at the center of her first work of fiction Anthem, which later inspired works as far ranging as Rush albums to Star Trek episodes.

Miss California 2009 is among those making a faith-based argument against other people's right to marry. She's honest, but she's wrong to do so. Whether or not you are religious, if you accept our Constitution as the law of the land, that's a non-starter. When government or other citizens tell me what to do, they damn well better have a real-world, proveable, factual rationale for doing so before I even listen. That's what Jefferson meant when he talked about not caring what his neighbor did, so long as his neighbor didn't break his leg or pick his pocket. So if someone tells me I'm not allow to drink alcohol or eat pork, I ask what's their reason? If it's the Qu'ran, thanks but no thanks, and if you need me I'll be at the ballgame with a beer and a hot dog (and calling them a mush-head, a character defect which conservatives don't suffer gladly). Same for you, Miss California: you have every right to speak your mind, but none to tell me who to marry, so long as you can't offer any factual, concrete reasons.

Derbyshire does try to offer factual, concrete reasons against gay marriage, and while I disagree, this is at least the right way to go about making your argument. What I will say is this: while I support marriage equality, the current political climate is so full of reflexive partisan rhetoric that anyone making an honest, factual inquiry about the effects of gay marriage on civilization is likely to be branded a homophobe. (See how I put a disclaimer immediately in front of that statement?) But it's worth asking these questions. It's naive to automatically assume that there will be no impacts from such a seismic shift in the makeup of families.

At the same time - and this is critical - if you're a conservative, the burden of proof is always on those who would take a freedom away. Until you can show the facts of exactly how gay marriage hurts other people, it should be allowed. The similarity of anti-gay marriage arguments to anti-interracial marriage arguments makes me suspicious that there are no such facts under the histrionics. There have been studies, and kids raised by same-sex partners are not any more likely to themselves be gay, and these kids do just as well as kids from traditional marriages. This isn't some lobbying organization spinning data to suit their purposes - that link goes to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Doctors.

As a conservative, I ask that we all separate our personal faith from our political demands on others. Using the government to deny people freedom without evidence is not a good habit to get into, especially for a conservative. When you have facts, show them to us. Until then, support marriage equality.


JasonL said...

This is a fair-minded and thoughtful response, which is pretty rare around this issue.

I must disagree - and soundly - with this premise of yours:

At the same time - and this is critical - if you're a conservative, the burden of proof is always on those who would take a freedom away.I would say that first of all, no freedom is being "taken away." It is not as if there was same-sex marriage all across the land until John Derbyshire showed up and ruined everything. The freedom (I actually think this is the wrong word) is being added. This is significant: the conservative case against SSM is not anti-liberty but anti-innovation.

Second, the language of rights and freedom is not properly applied here, I think. Same-sex couples are allowed to do any private action they like - hold a wedding, get a priest to officiate, call themselves married, etc. What they can't do is compel the state to bestow the public recognition and benefits of marriage. The cops are not breaking into gay couples' homes and forcibly separating them. The "marrying" they want the right to do is a "marrying" that involves the whole society. It may be bad policy to withhold it from them, but it isn't clear that their private liberties are being violated.

Thomas Paine Jr. said...

You're right Jason, It's all too rare that people discuss this thoughtfully - though I must in turn disagree with you. A right exists whether or not a government grants it. Imagine instead of 2009 we were talking about 1952 in Mississippi. Black-white marriage has been prohibited by local laws but not by state laws. Say that a referendum is put on the ballot positively outlawing black-white marriage, and it passes. Acknowledging that no man has the moral power to give or take away rights to another, then technically, you're right that in this situation, no right was (legislatively) was taken away, since black and white people already couldn't get married. But the law is reinforcing a system that deprives them of that right, one that is enjoyed by same-race couples. In California, even in the technical legal sense, a right was taken away by Prop 8, since there was a period where Californians had the right of same-sex marriage.