Slate Wonders Why Libertarian Party Insists on Being Libertarian on Gay Rights Issues, Reveals Utter Ignorance of Party's History


Weird little piece up at Slate today, about an issue certainly none of their readers or pretty much anyone else cares about, but feeds a generic endless desire to scratch at the persistently annoying itch of libertarianism in these here times.

It is called "How Libertarians Failed Gay Rights" and its URL contains the phrase "the party failed to take a stand" on gay rights. Its evidence for this is that on the LP's current website, author Tyler Lopez couldn't find a dedicated page about gay rights.

The Party's platform does, though Lopez doesn't mention this, contain this:

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.

Lopez' very non-deep knowledge of his subject misses some other things, like the long history of LP candidates speaking out about gay rights as a pretty big deal, from Ed Clark's 1978 California governor's race in which he ran hard against the anti-gay Briggs Initiative to Gary Johnson in 2012 to Andre Marrou in 1992, and the interesting identity politics fact that the Party's first presidential candidate, John Hospers, was gay, though not openly so in a modern sense. 

At the very convention where he got the Party's nomination, former Republican congressman and Defense of Marriage Act author Bob Barr had to denounce his own law and insist he'd repeal it as president.

Lopez also misses the Party's record from the mid-'70s on of being way ahead of the national curve in talking sense and laissez-faire when it came to homosexuality.

This is summed up well in Ralph Raico's document used by the LP during the 1976 Roger MacBride campaign, "Gay Rights: A Libertarian Approach." Some excerpts. Again, this was used in the mid-'70s. Worth a longish look:

Since they partially share the heritage of Classical Liberalism, democratic socialists and left-liberals have been much more helpful to the cause of gay liberation. Much of the progress in recent years in repealing laws in this area has been due to them. But too often, even when they are more or less rational on the subject, they are, either for reasons of temperament or politics, much too timid….so many of them are generally in favor of gay rights, but nearly all shy away from the right of homosexual couples to adopt children, or even to have their unions legally recognized. Moreover, their attitudes are often tainted by an offensive, psychiatrically-rooted condescension: basically, a these-people-are-sick-and-need-help-not-punishment approach….

And as for the run-of-the-mill liberal politicians, we have a right to suspect the extent of their genuine tolerance. Consider, for example, one of the more "liberal" of these men, Sergeant Shriver (who was McGovern's Vice Presidential candidate in 1972). In a speech in Chicago to Mayor Daley's precinct workers, on October 24, 1972, Shriver whiningly complained of the unfair attacks on McGovern in these terms: "And then they say that George McGovern wants to give blanket amnesty to everybody—draft dodgers, deserters, queers, kooks …" (New Your Times, November 12, 1972. Sec. 4—notice that, in his frenzy, Shriver does not even take the trouble to make sense: "blanket amnesty to queers?") I think you and I have a good idea of the real feelings on homosexuals of anyone likely to become the candidate for President of the Democratic Party…..

With the Libertarian Party, unlike other political groups, there was never any need laboriously to raise its consciousness on the issue of gay liberation, nor to compel it, after long, drawn-out battles, finally to concede the humanity and first class citizenship of gay men and women. Instead, the Libertarian Party was born believing in gay rights. The need to promote full freedom of individual development for all persons is what led to the formation of our Party; and the very first mention of us in The New York Times ("New Party Makes a Debut in Denver," February 6, 1972) lists as our first objective (even ahead of abolition of the draft, amnesty for draft-evaders and deserters, private ownership of gold, etc.): "Repeal of all criminal laws in which there is no victim."

Gay rights have been an issue in practically every major Libertarian campaign since then, including John Hospers' try for the Presidency in 1972 (he did get one electoral vote, thus coming in a close third to McGovern); Fran Youngstein's campaign for Mayor of New York; Jerry Tuccille's try for Governor of New York in 1974; and the 1975 bids of Ray Cunningham for Mayor of San Francisco, and Dave Long for Mayor of Boston. It is also an integral part of the campaign of Roger MacBride and David Bergland, our candidates for President and Vice-President in 1976. At the Libertarian National Convention in New York City, in August, 1975, at which MacBride and Bergland were nominated, the following Platform planks were adopted unanimously.

"We hold that only actions which infringe the rights of others can properly be termed crimes. We favor the repeal of all federal, state and local laws creating "crimes" without victims. In particular, we advocate: … . (b) the repeal of all laws regarding consensual sexual relations, including prostitution and solicitation, and the immediate cessation of state oppression of homosexual men and women, that at last they be accorded their full rights as individuals … (e) the use of executive pardon to free all those presently incarcerated for the commission of these "crimes."

We call for the end of Defense Department policy of discharging armed forces personnel for homosexual conduct when such conduct does not interfere with their assigned duties. We further call for the retraction of all less-than-honorable discharges previously assigned for such reasons and the deletion of such information from military personnel files."

Better than "don't ask, don't tell," and in 1975. Dare I suggest Lopez has no idea what he's talking about?

More on how radical and how early the LP was on gay rights, a long long time ago, from Raico:

During the Tuccille campaign in 1974, a position paper was issued on the subject, composed by Mike James, Western New York Libertarian and gay liberationist. It provide s the basis for the position of the MacBride-Bergland ticket on the issue. Here is what our national candidates in 1976 specifically favor and will promote to the extent they can:

  • Repeal of all laws regarding consensual sexual acts between adults (with the age of consent reasonably defined). This would include abolition of laws prohibiting prostitution and solicitation, whether gay or straight.
  • Repeal of legislation prohibiting unions between members of the same sex, and the extension to such unions of all legal rights and privileges presently enjoyed by partners in heterosexual marriages.
  • An end to the use of loitering statutes and entrapment procedures as a means of harassing gays and prostitutes.
  • An end to the collection by government agencies of data on the sexual preferences of individuals.
  • Elimination of regulations specifying homosexuality as a justification for denying or revoking state licenses (for doctors, lawyers, teachers, hairdressers, etc.).
  • Repeal of laws prohibiting cross-dressing.
  • Recognition of the right of a homosexual parent to be considered for custody of his or her natural child, and of the child to choose the homosexual parent as guardian.
  • Elimination of laws specifying homosexuality as grounds for denying the right of adoption.
  • Equality of treatment of gay people in regard to government service, including particularly membership in the armed forces.
  • Release of all individuals presently detained or imprisoned for any victimless crime.

Even Lopez's substantive critique amounts to a complaint that the LP treats gay issues in a distinctly libertarian way–worrying about how government power effects gays, not worrying about private attitudes or treatment, which remain the business of those who hold the attitudes or give the treatment.

To complain about that is not to complain that the LP isn't sufficiently pro-gay (and compared to who? The Democratic Party who just last year got around to getting gay marriage rights in its platform, and which some research by colleague Ronald Bailey indicates didn't even mention eliminating sexual orientation discrimination in the platform until 1984?) but that it is overly libertarian.

Slate's piece combines confused thinking with near utter ignorance on its topic. However, it will, if read quickly and carelessly by equally ignorant readers, help make certain people think less of libertarianism, and that's all that matters.