Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Gay Marriage Debate

Gay marriage is one of those issues where people tend to believe very strongly one way or the other, and also tend to believe that the other side is not just wrong, but deeply immoral. Rational discussion on gay marriage is thus very difficult, but nevertheless I will try to add my two cents.

The way I see it, the question of gay marriage boils down to the freedoms of association and speech. Individuals have the right to associate or not associate with whomever they please, provided the other party agrees; individuals also have the right to say what they like and express their views, or to say nothing. There are, of course, widely accepted limits to both of these freedoms, and some limits are more reasonable than others.

I believe the freedoms of association and speech together point to an ideal marriage policy: You should be free to marry whomever you want, and I should be free to acknowledge or ignore it however I want. This ideal marriage policy is what led me to approve R-74 in the last election.

The Conservatives
What Conservatives Won't Like: Conservatives won't like my ideal marriage policy because it means that there will be gay marriages. Gays and lesbians will live together, have sex, publicly express same-sex affection and do whatever else they want.

Why Conservatives Are Wrong: By my count, some 31 states currently outlaw gay marriage with no provision for civil unions. In every single one of these states, thousands or even millions of gays and lesbians under current law live together, have sex and publicly express same-sex affection. Many of them even have made lifelong commitments to each other that they would call marriages if the government did not prohibit it.

These people are already enjoying all the substance of marriage without the name. Even the most anti-gay U.S. conservatives do not advocate using government force to break up these relationships, as is done in nearly 80 countries worldwide. Rather, conservatives oppose gay marriage because they do not want to be required to support it. They fear that government recognition of gay marriage will come with government mandates for private citizens and private organizations to extend private recognition to gay marriages.

Why My Ideal Is Better: The conservative fear of government mandates is well-founded, and this is why my ideal policy preserves the individual's right to acknowledge or ignore someone else's marriage however they choose. To me, this seems to be implicit in the freedom of speech. Washington state's SB-6239 ensured this right for religious organizations, and I think it should be extended to everyone.

The Liberals
What Liberals Won't Like: Liberals won't like my ideal marriage policy because some people will choose not to recognize gay marriages. This includes companies providing benefits to employee spouses, churches performing marriage ceremonies, etc.

Why Liberals Are Wrong: Some employers will provide spousal benefits to heterosexual but not homosexual couples. No doubt in protest, some employers would provide spousal benefits to homosexual but not heterosexual couples. This violates a liberal's idea of "equality," but your right to do as you please does not extend to requiring me to approve of what you do. The freedom of association is meaningless if it does not include the right to not associate.

Furthermore, it is not the government's place to ensure equality in fact, even if such a thing were possible. Rather, the government's guarantee of equality is equality before the law, and that is exactly what my ideal policy provides. Everyone has equal rights to marry or not, and everyone has equal rights to say whatever they want about others' marriages.

Why My Ideal Is Better: Over time, the market may sort out societal preferences. If the vast majority of society ends up favoring gay marriage as liberals insist, the market will punish organizations that oppose gay marriage, just as it now punishes organizations like the KKK that overtly stand for racism. On the other hand, if liberals are less than correct about societal attitudes, we may end up with multiple equilibria, with different organizations catering to the different sides. My ideal marriage policy allows both cases to occur naturally, depending on how societal preferences change, rather than imposing societal change through government.


  1. I think I agree. Although I'm pessimistic that reality will settle for such an equilibrium based on the lawsuits that have gone out already.

    1. That's a good point. I would think it nearly impossible if Washington's bill allowing gay marriage had not provided for objections by religious organizations. Even so, I think that provision is just as likely to be quietly eliminated at some point as it is to be expanded to cover individuals and non-religious organizations.