One man who spoke to Rob at some length asked him what his position was on gay marriage. Rob gave what is now a rather common libertarian answer -- that we were in favor of gay marriage. The man promptly said "well, you lost me right there."
More recently, a local activist in Harrisonburg resigned from the newly-established city committee, apparently due to his perception that the new group was in favor of recognition of gay marriage.
These two incidents underscore what I think is a tactical error on the part of LP activists in recent years: the practice of saying we are in favor of gay marriage.
Several LP media releases have said essentially the same thing, including one earlier this year from the Virginia LP.
Here is the text of the Libertarian Party's platform position on same-sex marriage:
"1.3 Personal Relationships - 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."
So let's put it this way: In a libertarian society marriage and incorporation would be two distinctly different institutions.
Marriage would be a religious institution where two people come together to bind their immortal souls in the presence of their creator. Government would have zero involvement in such an institution.
Incorporation, on the other hand, would be a legal union or contract between consenting adults in the eyes of the State. Adults, whether there are 2, 3, or 10 of them could share their lives, homes, bank accounts, etc. and live in communes (forming a type of voluntary communism) if they so choose.
A much different world that would be.
So is the Libertarian Party in favor of gay marriage?
Libertarians actually take NO position on marriage, except for the idea that everyone has the absolute right to arrange their affairs and relationships as they wish -- without interference by any government authority.
In other words, Libertarians don't "favor" any kind of marriage, gay or otherwise -- we just want the government out of it.
When the above media release from LPVA went out, as an anarcho-cap, I would have greatly preferred that it spoke of the actual libertarian solution to the gay marriage issue:
- repealing all government laws meddling in marriage -- this would include repealing all subsidies, special rights, grants of privilege, restrictions, government-required blood tests; and,
- abolishing marriage licensure.
Democrats and Republicans have had ample opportunity -- for years -- to wipe the entire debate off the table by doing exactly the above.
But as usual, they have accomplished nothing.
"Conservatives" have a majority in the Virginia state house and a Republican is governor. Yet not a single Republican has even bothered to *introduce* a measure to eliminate marriage licenses (much less get it to a vote on the floor of the legislature). Not a single Republican has bothered to introduce a measure to reform "marriage law" by simply repealing them all and pushing marriage back into the voluntary sector; and henceforth treating marriage arrangements as we would any other contract.
Democrats and Republicans colluded to put marriage into the realm of the state in the first place. First it was reactionary Democrats setting up marriage licenses to prevent blacks from marrying whites; now it's reactionary Republicans attempting to use the same licensing law to keep others from arranging their marriage affairs as they see fit.
Conservatives and liberals alike can't have it both ways. If you are happy with government definition of marriage, then don't blame others for trying to capture that definition for themselves.
Remember: The government powerful enough to give you what you want is powerful enough to take everything you have.
Think about it. If Christians set up the machinery to set in law their version of morality, one day atheists, gays, Democrats, Bhuddists, polyamorists, Islamists, or others will grab the steering wheel and use that same machinery to run over you.
Take power away from the state, and you can safely ignore everyone who does it differently than you would prefer.
In some ways this is kind of a non-issue for me because I think everyone -- gay, straight, bi, lesbian -- should boycott state marriages and return marriage to the private sector (common-law contract, churches, synagogues, etc). Common-law marriage (which Virginia abolished many years ago) is nevertheless still recognized in Virginia if the marriage was entered into in a common-law state (full faith and credit, etc).
The state has NO business endorsing, or not endorsing, marriage.
Here's an important reason: Regarding marriage, there are two widely divergent groups of people who cannot and will not agree to a compromise -- yet both groups are forced to pay taxes. For conservatives, it is galling that their tax money would be used to pay for endorsing/enforcing a marriage type that they are opposed to. For the gay & lesbian community, their tax money pays for endorsing/enforcing a marriage type that they are left out of. That is an inherent, permanent conflict.
No one should be forced to pay for things they don't agree with.
In some ways, the GLBT community of the 1990's made a gigantic strategic error calling for government licensure (and thus approval) of same-sex marriages. Doing so energized the religio-statists and got them out to vote. Twenty years later, and the two groups are still locked in mortal combat.
A better path would have been to calmly push to eliminate marriage licensure altogether (why should the state be in your bedroom, anyway?), and to train judges, arbitrators, and mediators to fairly adjudicate marriage or partnership contract disputes.
Had this been the chosen path, the alternative lifestyle lobby might have found its interests aligned with the hardline religious sector, which would probably endorse getting government out of permitting what to the religious is a sacred union that should be a matter for the couple involved, and their god.
Here is a summary review of the Libertarian position on marriage:
Libertarians favor ending all government interference in the marriage market. For the same reason we favor repealing all restrictions on the individual ownership of firearms, we also favor the abolition of blood tests, marriage licenses, government definitions of marriage, and the repeal of all laws restricting the right of individuals to agree to agree between themselves to marry -- no matter what sex, race, religion, creed, or number are involved.
At the same time, Libertarians want to eliminate the individual income tax, replace social security and medicare with private insurance, and get government out of the business of dictating who one chooses to associate or not associate with. There are tax benefits to being married -- because there are income and estate taxes. Eliminating the special treatment eliminates the desire for special interest legislation.
UPDATE 2/29/2014: Andrew Akers wrote a fairly succinct summary of the difficulty Libertarians have in persuading both sides of the marriage debate to give up a little:
I submit that the real issue (for people who take issue with this) has nothing to do with whether marriage is a legal contract unique from other contracts.
Based on my observations, the important thing for most people is how the term "marriage" is applied. Those opposed to "gay marriage" are often accepting of "civil unions" for same-sex couples, whereas same-sex couples insist that the term "marriage" be applied indiscriminately.
As with many other issues, the Libertarian position here is relatively foreign to those on both sides of the debate.
Hence what we say about "marriage" will be interpreted in the context of the actual debate, which is primarily about the application of a term. Libertarian "opposition to gay marriage" takes on a different meaning in this sense.
It gives the impression that we side with religious conservatives in "preserving the sanctity" of two-person heterosexual unions as superior to other kinds.
I tend to agree. However, we have to start somewhere. If Libertarians are too scared to speak in favor of the actual fair and free solution to the debate, who else will?