Re: Liberty, Equality, Blah Blah Blah

Danny B, who thankfully is the first person ever to accuse me of “grotesque confusion” (in those exact terms at least), takes the true libertarian line on gay marriage. Yet the degree to which he grants some pretty questionable conservative assumptions surprises me. I’m not sure exactly what Daniel means by “civil society,” but surely he realizes that the government cannot and would not “touch churches.” The specter of priests being forced to officiate at same-sex weddings is an utter fabrication.
I also don’t understand how Daniel can personally support the existence of gay marriage, believe that it is as inevitable as interracial marriage was, and think it objectionable that gay-marriage supporters are using “the machinery of the state” to run over “tradition.” Look, that’s what you do when you think you are owed a civil right. You push the issue. You bring a lawsuit. You find a sympathetic official who’s willing to help out. In my view, there are no procedural grounds for objecting to gay marriage. That is, you can think marriage ought to be available to gay couples and therefore the issue should be pressed and the government should “enforce” your view, or you can think that marriage is between a man and a woman and the government should enforce that view. In either case, the machinery of the state is endorsing a particular moral stance. The question is, which one will it endorse?
This is also why I was puzzled to see Daniel invoke the need for federalism. The idea that states should do what they want about gay marriage is a politician’s pander; it is not a real position. Again, gay marriage is either a civil right or it’s not. If it is one, it is not okay for people in Massachusetts to have it, but not people in West Virginia.
And while Daniel certainly proposes a better way for conservatives to “frame” the issue, I hope he realizes that the assumption underlying this new framing (that gay marriage would somehow contribute to the further decline of the nuclear family) is hardly new, and hardly established.
Now, I will end by coming to my own defense, and trying to clarify my “grotesque confusion” regarding equality and liberty. Daniel thinks it is ridiculous to claim that “the lack of a State imprimatur on your relationship” is “antithetical to liberty.” Now, if everyone‘s relationship lacked the state’s seal of approval, I would certainly agree that nobody’s liberty was being violated. But to grant some people a civil right and then deny it to others is antithetical to equality, yes, but also to liberty. By granting it to some people, the state creates a relative need; it opens a door to some, and closes it to others, and does so (we assume for the sake of argument) for no good reason.
Daniel’s libertarian assumption must be (correct me if I’m wrong) that the state cannot create liberty. There is some pre-existing set of natural liberties, and all the state can do is put limits on those. To me, that is a perverse understanding of what it means to be free. The state can create or expand freedom for people just as surely as it can limit it. Daniel undoubtedly thinks that the collection of an income tax entails some sort of cost to liberty (though he probably concedes that sometimes that cost can be outweighed by certain benefits). But he probably would not agree that state outlays made possible by the income tax can increase the amount of liberty in society, that the social safety net is not just about equality but also freedom.
So, all I’m saying is, I don’t buy into the idea that we need to always choose between liberty and equality. I think that the two concepts are deeply connected. And so I defend to the death the idea that there can be an affront to liberty, not just equality, when straight couples can marry but gay couples cannot.

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