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A Libertarian Looks at President Obama’s Same-Sex Marriage Proclamation

May 2012

Our president’s views on marriage have “evolved” and now he has come out in favor of “same-sex marriage” (hereafter named “ME” for “marriage equality” in this essay).

This comes on the heels of a crushing defeat to ME advocates at the hands of the citizens of North Carolina who voted 61% to 39%, the previous day, in favor of a state constitutional amendment defining only “traditional marriage” (hereafter named “TM” in this essay) as legal.

The two Billys (Clinton and Graham) weighed in with full-page ads in North Carolina newspapers advocating ME and TM, respectively.

America is not of one mind on this issue.

I am writing this in an airport, about to fly to Mammoth Lakes, California, to perform a marriage. Fitting that I write this now.

Let me lay my cards on the table. Please don’t jump to conclusions based on this short list. My conclusions from this essay are going to surprise you:

  • I am a strong advocate for TM (traditional marriage).
  • I am also a strong advocate for a free society, where coercion is only used to stop aggression.
  • I operate from the assumption that our government’s natural tendency is a “benevolent drift toward a total state.” Our government and leaders generally mean well and end up growing the government and its control over our lives in order to help us. Of course, I believe this generally does more harm than good.

So. On to the discussion…

I am amazed that the advocates for TM and ME are operating under an unhelpful assumption: That the government (federal or state) has the power to license adult relationships.

Marriage licenses are a relatively new thing. For most of our history marriages have been a contract (formal or informal) between individuals and/or families. A religious sanction has been seen as helpful and/or optional in most societies. A “priest” or someone of similar social standing often (but not always) presides.

For much of American history, because we are such an under-populated nation (the topic of another essay), men and women have simply found one another and moved in. They would start referring to each other as husband and wife. Priests/clergy were scarce (perhaps an occasional circuit rider) and the magistrate may well have been the equivalent buggy distance away and expense (in today’s travel time and real cost) of flying to India.

This was also true in Bible times. “He took her as his wife” is a common phrase. The main “social marking” event was a feast/reception and no mention is made of a “judge” or a “priest” showing up. Most Bible people more or less followed the pattern of Adam and Eve and just started the marriage up at their own discretion.

Marriage licenses, unfortunately, came into widespread use after the Civil War, in an effort by racists to control or end “mixed marriages” with newly freed slaves (which in fact had been happening constantly throughout our entire history going back to Jamestown).

When people perceive a “problem,” government is always all too ready to dash in and help “fix” things, and they typically end up with more control over our lives in the end. Just think of the TSA if you want an example.

Thus the widespread custom of marriage licenses was born.

Fast forward to 2012. The culture wars have latched on to the TM vs. ME battle, reinforcing Caesar’s (my favorite term for government power) hold on the role of  “decider.”

Both sides, in feverishly trying to get their view adopted by 100% of the public, are playing a gigantic chess game of “Mother May I” with plebiscites and court cases.

Truth is, the opponents are taking their partisan case to a “casino” where the house (government) always wins.

It’s as if two kids get into a playground argument and, unable to settle their dispute, take it up with the school principal. After generations of this appealing to authority, the principal eventually would control all playground activity at the smallest level of detail.

Free and unsupervised playgrounds (think basketball on the public park courts of the South Side of Chicago or sandlot baseball in the Dominican Republic) always produce better performers than over-managed and over-parented suburban youth sports (think Little League dad syndrome). Liberty works.

So back to the TM/ME debate. As a strong supporter of TM (I think of it as the Creator’s “plan A.”), you may be surprised with what I am going to say.

In short, get rid of marriage licenses. Altogether. While you’re at it, get rid of equivalent licenses for barbers, real estate agents and the like. Even business licenses. I pay $100+  a year to the City of Huntington Beach for my little private S-Corporation license and $800 annually to the State of California so they can keep me on some “register.” I get nothing of value in return for either payment. Yet no one questions the right of the government to demand/coerce such money from us. We obediently write our checks.

So, what business does the government have in registering and charging for voluntary adult relationships? What’s next, a friendship tax?

The whole TM/ME argument is base on a false premise; that the “school principal” is the decider. Both sides seek exclusive permission to define marriage aligned to their opinion and then impose that opinion on the other side, with Caesar’s blessing.

Let me suggest a better way.

In a truly free, non-coercive society, people can do as they please as long as they are not aggressing against others or their property. In a state of liberty, all would be free from physical, social, legal, economic, and intellectual aggression.

Picture a society where adult citizens could live with whomever they wanted and enter, freely, into any covenants they choose with others, on whatever terms they should select.

Any attempt to hinder free people from doing so is a restriction of their liberty.

It is also, and this is often left out, a restriction of intellectual liberty to impose a viewpoint on others. Unfortunately, “liberals” often don’t see their shortcomings in this area. In pushing for marriage equality (ME), they see themselves as the defenders of liberty and forget that they are aggressively redefining marriage and hoping to force this new definition on those who hold to TM (traditional marriage) views. It is not enough, for liberals, to have ME become the law of the land, they fully intend for TM supporters to embrace it, or label them as bigots.

In a free society, we would not be free to foist our definition of marriage on those who choose to think otherwise. This goes both ways.

In other words, requiring someone who strongly supports TM to call same-sex marriage a “marriage” is a form of intellectual aggression and has no place among free people. People have a right to their own viewpoints, definitions, and opinions.

Conversely, TM supporters like me have no right to tell ME folks that they cannot consider same-sex marriage a marriage. The truth is, they already do consider it same sex “marriage” a marriage. And I don’t get to vote on what other people think. And ME supporters don’t get to vote on what I think.

Appealing to Caesar is inappropriate among free people who disagree. We need to work it out on the playground for ourselves. No one has to play jump rope. No one has to hang on the monkey bars. No one has to play tetherball.

Respect for the freedom of another person does not require validating his or her opinion, just his or her right to have that opinion, and agreeing not to aggress against it.

Let’s make this more personal. I am a staunch supporter of TM. However, I realize that there are tens of millions of people who have their minds made up that ME is the way to go. If they want to call same-sex marriage a marriage, that is up to them. I, however, do not have to consider it a marriage or call it one. I can find polite ways to avoid that word (marriage) when discussing the issue. Much as atheists in a free society do not have to believe in God, name him, or pray to him, but they are obligated to let others do so.

First of all, however, we have to get the government out of marriage. Adults would be free to enter into any contract with each other. A new private business would spring up: relational contracts. There could be standard and custom-made contracts. It would be similar to the wills and trusts business so common today—no judge or priest is needed to make it so. These contracts could be cheaper than current marriage licenses, and much more customized to suit the needs of the contract parties. It could be notarized, and you could even get a little card for your wallet designating next of kin if you are found (God forbid) in an accident.

This contract can be updated or cancelled at any time. It’s not like our current way of doing things (with a huge divorce rate) is working all that well….

Next of kin can be designated by anyone. Caesar has no right to decide who your next of kin is. Can be a blood relative, can be a spouse, can be a best friend. Sexual intimacy (or lack thereof) should play no role.

All this being said, one’s Facebook status (single, married, in a relationship, it’s complicated, etc) carries more weight these days than paper from the court house.

These adult, free-will covenants could be celebrated by a reception, a party, a religious ceremony, or whatever they like. They would be free to call it whatever they like. A marriage. A partnership. And those of us “looking in” would also be free to call it whatever we like.

Faith communities would be free to craft their own values on the marriage issue. Some would practice only TM. Some would be open to ME. The congregations or denominations could decide for themselves. Coercion would be absent.

My own Lutheran tradition, with its “two kingdoms” has already paved the way for a dual-voluntary system when it comes to marriage. A tolerant public sphere and a voluntary church sphere. We also teach that marriage is not a sacrament (as opposed to Roman Catholic teaching), and does not need clergy present to make it “real.”

The truth is, I insist on being free to hold exclusively to the TM view, and have the right to congregate with others who agree. We have the right, as a congregation, to live accordingly, just as Orthodox Jews are free to restrict themselves to a kosher diet and set their own voluntary community standards.

A same-sex couple would have every right to call their relationship a marriage. But they would not have the right to force others to call it a marriage. They would be free to try to convince and persuade others, but not to coerce them. That would violate the free thought of others.

Free societies are not “winner takes all” societies. They are truly tolerant and non-aggressive, at every level. Valuing liberty does not mean we have to like what others or doing or to approve of any opinions or behaviors.

What about taxes?

Our tax code would have to be changed to “filing individually” and “filing as a legal collective.” Much as the tax code is free of religious labeling, it would have to be neutral on this issue too, so as not to side with a partisan group. And the truth is, coercive income taxes have no place in a free society anyways. But that’s another story.

Caesar has become such a huge part of our lives that we have forgotten the ground rules of liberty.

Let me be clear. I am not advocating ME. I am advocating for my right to hold to TM within a (much) freer society which is neutral on the subject.

Let’s move toward living freely. And thinking freely.

Visualize liberty.

There is something un-American about gated communities.

Have a look at this short video clip of San Francisco before the earthquake.  The freedom you see there is quintessential American.

We are, supposedly, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Latin America has a lot of gated “pink zones” surrounded by barrios of poverty.  Is that the direction in which we want to go?

I can understand private property, but that doesn’t include streets.  Streets belong to everyone–that’s the whole idea of a street.  We could argue for getting rid of tollways, too (which we should), but that’s a whole ‘nother blog topic.

We should all be able to stroll through any neighborhood in the USA, unhindered, as long as we are minding our own business and respecting the property of others.

We have the right to lock our homes, but not our streets.

How can we claim to be a free society if more and more of our neighborhoods are built with gate houses?

And have you ever driven through a gated community?  It looks like a neutron bomb went off–everything is perfect, but the people are missing.  Occasionally you see a human with a leaf blower.

Peaceful free passage through any residential neighborhood should be a basic human right.  In fact, we should find a way to enhance security in airports without having to ID everyone all the way into the plane.  We should have the technology to do so by now.  A citizen should be able to travel peacefully and freely throughout the US without showing identification.

Mobility and interaction do much to increase a sense of community and mutuality.  The safest streets are the ones with the most pedestrians.  “Quiet and dead” neighborhoods are idea magnets for crime.  Studies have shown (you can look it up) that gated communities actually offer a false sense of security.

It is small wonder that gated communities appear the most often in areas of the world where the canyon between rich and poor is the widest; and it helps to petrify this gap with security systems.  Why would we want to reinforce those differences?  Is the disappearance of a middle class something that we want to institutionalize, geographically?

In Sweden, there is a custom called “allemansrecht” or free access.  Check this website for details.  In a nutshell, you can cross anyone’s property (not just walk by on the street) as long as you are not being a nuisance.

And while we’re at it, let’s build sidewalks and create more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.  A community of garage doors does little to enhance livability.  In most American suburbs, children without drivers’ licenses have no way to get anywhere–everything is built to the scale of the automobile.  Small wonder that our suburban young people feel isolated.

By the way, Hell is a gated community!   Matthew 16:18 (via Hal Seed)

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