[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
A friend sends me a link to this story about several counties in California responding to the recent legalisation of same-sex marriage by refusing to perform any marriage ceremonies at all, whether same-sex or hetero. My friend asks whether this is a positive or negative development from a libertarian standpoint; although the motive may be homophobic, isn’t this policy a step in the right direction, i.e., toward getting the state out of the business of defining and regulating marriage, leaving it to private contract and custom?
Well, I think it’s a mixed bag. Recent events have actually gotten the separation of state and marriage onto the table in broader-than-libertarian circles, which is surely a good thing even if some of the motives are questionable. But under present circumstances, county governments refusing to perform marriages has a serious downside.
As things stand, the state imposes a variety of legal burdens on unmarried couples from which married couples are exempt; these range from higher taxes to restrictions on inheritance, refusal of right to make medical decisions on a partner’s behalf, and, in the case of citizen/alien couples, liability to deportation for the alien. In this context, when one branch of the state, charged with providing the only legal means of avoiding certain forms of aggression imposed by another branch of the state, refuses to provide those means, it arguably becomes an accessory to the aggression – while still collecting salary from the taxes of the victims, to boot. Now if county employees wish to resign their tax-funded jobs, that’s another matter. But in the meantime, it’s as though my henchman Sluggo says he’s going to rob you unless my other henchman Thuggo says not to, while Thuggo remains silent (and collects his share of the take).
Incidentally, another friend who’s doing academic research on marriage asks me for citations to articles (preferably though not necessarily in academic journals) by “prominent libertarians” who argue that the state should stay out of marriage. Any suggestions? (So far all my friend has found is Jennifer Roback Morse’s argument that a libertarian state should not permit divorce! For the honour of libertarianism we must do better.)
How the hell does she conclude that a libertarian state shouldn’t permit divorce? That’s just too weird.
Oh, by the way, I agree with you about the mixed bag. A contextual anti-statist analysis takes into account the reality of a state dominated conception of marriage.
In my opinion, the more important battle to be waged is a cultural-philosophical one. As long as many Americans remain bigots about the question of LGBT rights, then there will be major problems for LGBT individuals in society.
Imagine if social security disappeared tomorrow and was replaced by a nationwide network of private conservative churches that only doled out assistance to “properly” wed straight couples. I’d say that the fact that the state is out of the picture is no cure all.
Natasha, it seems I read you everywhere, and I really love your perspective, since with just a few words you consistently manage to cast light into areas which are dark to me personally.
However, with what you said about churches, what’s the threat, at least in this particular case? The ballyhooed social safety net isn’t likely to be replaced solely by religious or conservative organizations, least of all in California. Freed from state taxation and other compulsions I suspect that you and I and millions of other people of conscience would support organizations that closely conformed to our own ideals, and that those services which were necessary would somehow get delivered. At least, I *want* to believe that is the case.
The cultural-philosophical battle is one which continues to be won. Completely outside the LGBT world myself, I am always delighted to see walls like this coming crashing down. I *hate* the oozing, gelatinous pace of the thing, though. All that’s necessary is for a couple hundred million folks to wake up tomorrow morning and decide to stop being complete assholes. Seems easy, ain’t gonna happen.
Anyway, I’m not trying to knock down the “mixed bag” argument Roderick makes at all. It is truly thus.
PS, to all: I need a ride to Ancapistan, sometime around Thursday. Anyone going?
“Private conservative churches”, just like any private organizations, have every right to use their resources as they see fit. If they are the only people giving any charity, the natural conclusion is that they are the only ones who care. I suspect this is unlikely.
There is no reason that charity has to be limited to churches, BTW. Have you never known a charitable athiest?
I was under the impression (with low confidence) that the counties in question were issuing licenses to be married but not performing ceremonies for the couples. If that were the case, I’d be inclined to approve under Roderick’s analysis, as the licensing accomplishes the goal of providing an aegis against other government discrimination but drives people away from the state for the symbolic sanction of the union.
Let me thank you for your warm words. And I do tend to get around the left-libertarian blogosphere!
““Private conservative churches”, just like any private organizations, have every right to use their resources as they see fit. If they are the only people giving any charity, the natural conclusion is that they are the only ones who care. I suspect this is unlikely.
There is no reason that charity has to be limited to churches, BTW. Have you never known a charitable athiest?”
I feel you missed the point of my comment. I wasn’t saying we should get into a firefight with private conservative churches that don’t donate money to “improperly” coupled people. I am saying that we should use peaceful and non-violent methods of persusaion to make sure that any future libertarian society’s social safety net structure is inclusive rather than exclusive. You shouldn’t assume that I am advocating violent statist means to achieve social change here. I recongize the right of groups to free association. I will not peacefully sanction or turn a blind eye towards private discrimination though. Many people’s lives have been ruined by the failure of their fellow human beings to recongize them as fully human. And I am an individualist humanist attracted to libertarian ideas. My commitment to opposing private racism, sexism, and so forth is as strong as my commitment to opposing the war on drugs or prostitution.
This is why I am distressed that libertarians aren’t thick enough in their commitments to cultural liberty sometimes. I find that I have zero trouble being accepted as an LGBT person in what anarcho-capitalist libertarians call left-anarchism. I have generally found left-anarchists to be extremely open and socially progressive people. Those are the people I feel most comfortable around. And I believe the right-wing libertarian movement should adopt their social attitudes.
In other words: are we going to be thick or thin libertarians here? Are we going to translate political individualism into cultural individualist commitments that are quite logically connected to the political ones? I am saying that libertarians must strongly denounce discrimination against LGBT people by governmental and non-governmental institutions.
I am a transgendered girl living in a not so friendly enough world who wants to have a happy life. I agree with Mike that more people than just conservative religionists would donate to charity and social safety net organizations in a libertarian society. And I know of people I can rely on right now, but if I were living in a hostile small town, then my reality might be quite different.
I want assurances from my libertarian comrades that they won’t turn a blind eye to any cultural oppression of me. Please try to place yourself in the shoes of a transgendered girl living in a country that is economically collapsing and who may have to use state services to survive in the real world someday. If the only alternative to state services run by cultural liberals who treat me with respect is a network of conservative Southern Baptist churches that refuse to recongize me as female, then I know where my interests lie.
For me to practice mutual aid with someone requires some degree of shared values. People whose values are antithetical to mine to the point of denying me life saving aid on the basis that I am “immorally” changing my gender are people I cannot be political or cultural allies with. This isn’t a question of pure abstract academic debate about libertarian principle for me. This is my life and my survivial in the world as it currently exists. I cannot happily talk about political ideology when I am starving on the streets or unable to find adequate medical care.
A commitment to cultural individualism and LGBT rights should be official policy for left-libertarians. And the left-libertarians who understand this like Charles Johnson are among my strongest political-cultural allies.
Charles, if you’re reading this: let me thank you so much for the writing and work you do. You’re a beacon of light in this world. Please keep it up!
P.S. I have known charitable atheists. I am one of them!