Different voices on gay marriage


A somewhat belated link to an interesting column by free-market economist and social critic Thomas Sowell, addressing and criticizing some of the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage. According to Sowell:

There is, for example, the argument that the government has no business getting involved with marriage in the first place. That is a personal relation, the argument goes.

Love affairs are personal relations. Marriage is a legal relation. To say that government should not get involved in legal relations is to say that government has no business governing.

Homosexuals were on their strongest ground when they said that what happens between "consenting adults" in private is none of the government's business. But now gay activists are taking the opposite view, that it is government's business—and that government has an obligation to give its approval.

I strongly support, as I have before, legal equality for same-sex partners. But there are many troubling and complicated questions surrounding this issue. If we are looking at it from a truly libertarian perspective, all the legal privileges attached to marriage—whatever the gender of the partners—are illegitimate, because they represent the government favoring one type of relationship over another. Why should a bond of lifelong platonic friendship be less "privileged" than a sexual relationship? Are single people, for whom such a bond may be the primary relationship in their lives, being discriminated against by the very existence of civil marriage? If the government can favor some relationships over others, can't it also regulate these relationships in some fashion and express majoritarian preferences for certain types of relationships?

Another good column on the subject comes from Tammy Bruce, the maverick lesbian feminist turned right-wing darling. I've been pretty tough on Bruce in the past, partly because I felt that she was avoiding taking a stand on same-sex marriage so as not to alienate her conservative friends. I hereby offer a partial apology: Bruce's column on the subject is a good, thoughtful attempt to reconcile the case for equal protection with respect for the traditional cultural meaning of marriage. Her answer is civil unions with all the "legal incidents" of marriage, which is what a number of other nations (such as England) are adopting.

Is this discrimination? When the debate is over semantics rather than actual rights, we are talking about two different groups wanting to legislate their values: societal acceptance of same-sex relationships as fully equivalent to male-female ones, versus the view that male-female marriage should hold a special place in our culture because it cements the bonding of the two sexes and is (normally) related to childbearing. That, it seems to me, is a subject for debate in a democratic society, not a civil rights issue. (Again, from a truly libertarian standpoint, neither goal is legitimate and neither group should look to the government to validate its beliefs and identity.)