Why libertarians should oppose government-sponsored same-sex marriage

New York’s new gay marriage law is supported by the vast majority of libertarians. Libertarians do not believe in state regulation of private behavior, and they see regulating marriage as the government interfering in private behavior. One of my personal new-found heroes, Ron Paul, has said many times: “the government should not be involved in the marriage business.”

I don’t agree, mostly for what I consider to be libertarian reasons. Read on to find out why.

First, some terms.
1)A just government is meant to be a voluntary compact to protect the natural rights of life, liberty and property (see D&C 134:2). Natural rights are rights that you have simply by being born; they are inalienable. New rights cannot be created that interfere with other peoples’ natural rights.
2)The US federal government should stay out of the marriage business (and in this sense I agree with Ron Paul). Marriage and family law is the purview of state and local laws.
3)People should be tolerant of other behaviors, even if they run afowl of our personal morals. Laws regulating the personal behavior of others violate their natural rights, and in this sense government should not tell people what to do as long as they don’t harm other people. Laws against sodomy and other personal sexual behaviors are and should be unconstitutional nationwide.
4)People should be able to make voluntary contracts with each other, including contracts that may include some rights that are generally promoted through marriage. For example, there is no reason why one man should not be able to leave his Social Security or private pension benefits to another man with whom he has been living, as long as that contract is consensual. There is no reason why one woman should not be able to visit at the hospital another woman with whom she has been living. There is no reason to prevent some employers from deciding to offer health benefits to domestic partners.
5)The worthiness of people to be parents is a separate issue than their sexuality. There are extremely worthy gay couples and extremely unworthy married straight couples. Adoption and other issues should be considered based on the individual merits of the people involved and not on sexuality.

So, it should be obvious to anybody who has read 1-5 above, that when I discuss “marriage,” I am discussing something different than a “voluntary civil union” or a “partnership.” Marriage has an objective meaning. In general, I favor local governments promoting same-sex civil unions rather than marriage.

Well, actually, “marriage” has two objective meanings. One is religious and one is civil or secular. The religious meaning is: “the uniting of one woman and one man before God.” The civil meaning is: “the uniting of one woman and one man in a public ceremony in which the community participates with the purpose of supporting the formation of a new family unit.”

I would like all readers to imagine they live in a small town on the American frontier in, say, 1800 (about the time of Joseph Smith’s parents). This town is far away from other government and must adopt rules to govern itself. What is “marriage” to this town?

Marriage is a way of helping people govern themselves so society does not have to get involved. Marriage supports and promotes the primary purpose of just government, which is to protect the three natural rights. Marriage is voluntary civil government at its most basic level.

Marriage supports the right to life because it is intended to help form and nourish new life and to keep the community growing and prospering. It supports the right to liberty because it helps protect the liberty of the town’s inhabitants against foreign elements (think of Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty) and the liberty to pursue happiness. It supports the right to property because family units usually develop some kind of property and then pass that property on to their heirs.

Why am I going back to 1800? Because we have forgotten what marriage is. Virtually every major society in the history of the world has accepted a stable definition of marriage, which is: “the uniting of one woman and one man in a public ceremony in which the community participates with the purpose of supporting the formation of a new family unit.” Even societies that have had wide tolerance of sexual behavior (such as ancient Greece and Rome, for example) have also accepted this definition of marriage.

Marriage helps keep societies chaos-free. A public marriage announces to past boyfriends and girlfriends: these people are married now, leave them alone and go find another mate. The public ceremony asks the community to participate in maintaining the marriage for the good of society. “Breaking up a marriage” has negative consequences for a community because it involves more than just the two people who are married. It involves breaking a public compact.

Marriage is definitely *not* a private affair. If it were, people would get together privately in their living rooms and exchange rings and call themselves married. But this is not what happens in a marriage: the family, friends and community members participate because it is a public commitment ceremony.

Everybody reading this right now does not believe that anybody should be able to marry anybody else. You do not believe that a lecherous 30-year-old man should be able to marry a six-year-old girl. You do not believe that a greedy 30-year-old man should be able to marry a rich, mentally incompetent woman confined to a mental institution so he can get her money. Most people reading this do not believe that a man or woman who is already married should be able to marry another person until he or she is divorced.

My purpose here is to convince you that “marriage” has a different definition than anything else. It exists as a specialized concept with clearly defined connotations, and it has since the beginning of human interaction.

By adopting state-sponsored same-sex marriage, even by the preferable means of the legislative process, the government is engaging in social engineering. It is taking a time-tested definition of an institution that has existed in one form for millennia and creating a new definition. Libertarians should recoil from such state-sponsored action.

There is nothing wrong with creating a new institution — a civil union, for example — and using it to address the obvious inequities of the current situation. This is the easier and simpler approach: billions of people throughout time have known what a marriage is. Now, people will be introduced to the new concept of a civil union that is intended to help provide an alternative approach.

Libertarians should be extremely leery of adopting new definitions for words with objective meanings. Life, liberty and property have objective meanings that need to be maintained. Big government types have been trying (and succeeding) to change the meanings of words for decades. Thus, “liberty” becomes “freedom from want, the freedom to take from one person and give to another based on need.” No, liberty means the exact opposite of that. Liberty means you have the freedom to do what you want with your life and the state cannot interfere.

It is exactly the redefinition of objective words that libertarians should fear. We have redefined the words “national defense” to justify foreign wars of aggression against sovereign nations. We have redefined “police force” so that it means, “SWAT teams breaking into your homes and killing innocents.” National defense means defending the country against foreign invaders who attack first. Police are intended to protect and serve the taxpayers who pay their salaries.

As mentioned above, the U.S. Constitution leaves family law to the states and localities, just as it leaves police and fire protection and local courts to states and localities. Marriage is an extension of family law and is intended to build up a stable society and also protect the family unit from state meddling. The Cato Institute earlier this year printed an important paper called “Marriage Against the State” that pointed out the importance of marriage in protecting your personal life. The paper points out that “getting the government out of the marriage business” is not the solution.

Government has been and always will be involved in the marriage business at the local level. People want public ceremonies where they express their commitment to each other. These ceremonies have important societal purposes, as outlined above.

One last point for the libertarians reading this: the libertarian movement is at its best when fighting against conventional wisdom and elite opinion. American elites overwhelmingly favor gay marriage. Think back of all of the things that American elites have overwhelmingly favored over the years (Medicare, Social Security, the drug war, the war on terror and on and on). How often does history prove them right?

Let me conclude by saying that the gay marriage movement appears unstoppable. The younger generation has no clue that marriage has a different meaning than a voluntary civil union. So if you are reading this and are offended, please consider that you have probably won the battle. Most states will have gay marriage in the next decade. Time will tell if it will truly involve the promotion of liberty or not.

This entry was posted in General by Geoff B.. Bookmark the permalink.

About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

50 thoughts on “Why libertarians should oppose government-sponsored same-sex marriage

  1. This is a strong argument.

    But it isn’t a libertarian argument. In fact, it’s a very unlibertarian argument. Being a libertarian and making an argument does not make your argument a libertarian one.

    Also, asking the government to get out of marriage is not the same thing as supporting gay marriage. Not by a long shot.

    In addition, government has only been licensing marriages for 2 centuries. Before that, it was entirely a religious/private affair. In fact, the only reason government started licensing marriage was because it wanted to prevent interracial marriage. Municipal governments starting requiring that all marriages be approved by the city government, so that they could filter potential marriages they didn’t like.

    You went back to 1800. Go back to 1700, and you won’t see marriage licenses at all. You’ll see marriage as a strictly private and religious affair.

  2. I’m actually muchly confused by a lot of this post.

    By adopting state-sponsored same-sex marriage, even by the preferable means of the legislative process, the government is engaging in social engineering. It is taking a time-tested definition of an institution that has existed in one form for millennia and creating a new definition. Libertarians should recoil from such state-sponsored action.

    Ok sure. I completely agree.

    However, state-sponsored heterosexual marriage is also a redefinition of terms. Marriage is a religious covenant, and has been for thousands of years. Requiring government permission to get married changes the meaning of marriage, just as requiring government permission to baptize would change the definition of baptism. Government-sponsored heterosexual marriages is a new phenomenon, and one that we should not be defending.

  3. People want public ceremonies where they express their commitment to each other. These ceremonies have important societal purposes, as outlined above.

    Sure. I agree. But what does the government need to first grant permission before I have a public ceremony that serves this important societal purpose? People had public ceremonies long before they ever needed government permission to perform them.

  4. Marriage is definitely *not* a private affair. If it were, people would get together privately in their living rooms and exchange rings and call themselves married. But this is not what happens in a marriage: the family, friends and community members participate because it is a public commitment ceremony.

    This is not a sufficient justification for requiring me to ask permission of the almighty government to marry my future spouse. This is not a sufficient of allowing a bureaucracy to license marriage. Being a public event is not the same thing as being a government sponsored event. Government is not needed for these ceremonies to be a public commitment.

    “Breaking up a marriage” has negative consequences for a community because it involves more than just the two people who are married. It involves breaking a public compact.

    This is true. But this is not a justification for the government requiring people to get marriage licenses (aka, government approval). A HECK of a lot of my choices can have negative consequences on the community. That is NOT a justification for the government to intervene in all the details of my choices. And being a “public” compact does not mean that the government has to mediate, approve of, or sanction that compact.

    Sorry for the 4 comments. They should have been one comment.

  5. “Government-sponsored heterosexual marriages is a new phenomenon, and one that we should not be defending.”

    Jeff T, this is simply not true, and a lot depends on what you mean by government. This is why I specifically asked people to consider marriage at its most basic level, ie in a small frontier town. Government in this sense is not the monstrosity we see today. It is the voluntary compact of a few thousand people living together in peace. I never say that government should give permission for marriage — I say that government (meaning the community) *participates* in marriage. It is a voluntary compact where permission is neither asked for nor granted.

    You really need to study a bit more about ancient marriage practices. Governments have been promoting and involved in marriages ever since there were men and women. Babylonian culture included government-sponsored marriage, so did Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Chinese, Indian, Japanese and on and on. Your claim that government-sponsored marriage is a new thing is simply wrong and may be the source of your confusion.

  6. Government sponsored marriage is not the same thing as community involvement in marriage. Today, for example, I cannot marry someone without first asking the government for permission. 3 hundred years ago, this was not true. All I needed was a priest who was willing to marry me. Community and societal norms may intervene, but the government didn’t.

    Your example of a frontier town where the community participates in the marriage is not the same thing as me needing to go to a courthouse and get a marriage certificate before my bishop can marry me. Libertarians are all for community involvement in marriage. They are against government requiring permission to marry. There’s a huge difference. And it sounds like you are arguing that libertarians are wrong, when they aren’t arguing what you think they are arguing.

  7. Jeff T, amazing you could read this so carefully and not understand what I was saying. My point is not about government permission to marry. I never use the word “permission” in the entire post, so I don’t know where you got that impression.

    Libertarians are nearly universally celebrating the NY decision to allow government-sponsored gay marriage, primarily based on “equal access” grounds. Reports indicate that it was involvement by New York libertarians that convinced the Republican senators to change their minds on this issue. That is my concern (as I said in the first paragraph of the post). Theirs is a very unlibertarian argument, to use your term, because they want more government involvement in marriage (on equal access grounds) rather than less. In addition, they have confused what marriage is and is not. This is what I said in my post.

    I can agree with you (and I think I made this abundantly clear in my post) that I am not in favor of government permission for marriage. People can do whatever they want. They can have public ceremonies and call themselves “married.” But in terms of government recognition (not permission), a gay union is a different institution than a heterosexual marriage. I don’t know how I could have made it more clear than I did. I think you are reading all kinds of things into my post that are not there.

  8. I have to agree with ldsphilosopher: I had a very hard time following the post. I sort of made it halfway before I got lost due to a) not following the logic and b) building up too many questions/challenges in my mind.

    For example, “New York’s new gay marriage law is supported by the vast majority of libertarians.” Right from the start I wanted to see something to back this up.

    “Marriage and family law is the purview of state and local laws.” Doesn’t this just shift the burden from federal to state? Suppose 25 of the states get together to form one mega-state; how are marriage laws at the state versus federal level effectively any different (in terms of libertarianism)? I see this as a constitutional argument, not a libertarian one.

  9. Most real libertarians aren’t pushing for government-sponsored same-sex marriage. Rather, they don’t want the government to license marriage at all. In fact, from everything I’ve read, this is what Ron Paul means when he said, “The government should not be involved in the marriage business.”

    Geoff, you said: “Libertarians do not believe in state regulation of private behavior, and they see regulating marriage as the government interfering in private behavior. One of my personal new-found heroes, Ron Paul, has said many times: ‘the government should not be involved in the marriage business.’ I don’t agree.” You then launched an argument about why government should regulate and license marriage.

    You’re contradicting yourself a lot here, or you aren’t communicating what you want to.

  10. Jeff T, could you please tell me where I say government should license marriage? My point is that government is involved in marriage (because it is a public ceremony), not that it should license. I should think the difference should be obvious.

  11. I’ve long thought the government should be out of the marriage business nor do I think they should be granting special incentives for a religious ceremony. I understand why they do it and why they want to incentivize traditional marriage. But if we were to talk about tax differences based say upon baptism we’d all be uncomfortable. Why not marriage?

  12. And, Geoff, how will the government be involved in my marriage if it isn’t licensing it? Is just the fact that friends and neighbors will be in attendance “government involvement?

  13. Those libertarians who support government-sponsored gay marriage are wanting the government involved in the marriage business. You’re arguing that they shouldn’t support government-sponsored gay marriage by showing how the government should be involved in the marriage business. Can you see why we’re confused?

    The solution is simple: do what Ron Paul says, and get the government out of the marriage business.

  14. Jeff T, we appear to be going around and around on this. I think you have made your point. I would encourage you to read the Cato paper I linked. It may offer some interesting things to consider.

  15. Geoff: the article you linked to discusses three rich libertarian donors, not the vast majority of libertarians….

  16. The federal government should not be involved in the marriage business. Any involvement should take place on the state and local level. If you would read the link from the Cato Institute, you would see that locally sanctioned marriage provides important protections from government intrusion. Family law involves centuries of tradition on how children should be handled during divorce, for example. This is a legitimate function of government and it helps couples deal with third party relationships (ie, their children) in a civil way.

    Local and/or state governments should participate in the marriage business by recognizing (not licensing or giving permission for) marriage. A record should simply be kept of who is married and who is not.

  17. BrianJ, no polls of libertarians have been released yet. I am pretty well tied in to the libertarian community through Facebook and other sites like Reason.com. Most libertarians celebrated the decision. You’re just going to have trust me on that one. This celebratory video is pretty typical of the libertarian attitude.

    http://reason.com/blog/2011/06/28/reasontv-stonewall-2011-the-ni

    If Jeff T can stop nit-picking for five seconds he will probably confirm that the vast majority of libertarians are celebrating. He also is pretty tied in to the libertarian community.

  18. Geoff, I’m pretty tied into the libertarian community, and I don’t see vast amounts of libertarians celebrating this. I do not confirm. In fact, most libertarians I know do not want government to license any marriage, much less same-sex marriage.

  19. “Today, for example, I cannot marry someone without first asking the government for permission. 3 hundred years ago, this was not true. All I needed was a priest who was willing to marry me.”

    There seems to be notion here that priests circa 1700 were not functionaries of the state. Civil marriage is what nations created in the 19th Century when state religion was removed or weakened.

  20. Geoff, do you wish for an end to “married filing jointly”? And no, you can’t answer that there shouldn’t be federal income tax, and therefore no filing status.

  21. Jeff T, your #21 is actually encouraging to me because it is more consistent. It is better to have the consistent position of opposing all government involvement (although I don’t agree with that position) than celebrating more statism. The Reason TV video has a woman saying (I paraphrase from memory), “finally the NY government is staying out of marriage.” Actually, the exact opposite is happening: the NY government is getting more involved in marriage. No reasons for libertarians to celebrate at all.

  22. Libertarianism is okay in a libertarian world where everyone accepts the consequences of their choices but we live in a social welfare state where rights frequently are associated with entitlements to other people’s money. I prefer a libertarian world by and large. I say no to laws on motorcycle helmets and I say show me the money when a crashed motorcyclist shows up at the ER. But I am in a very small minority. Yes gay marriage will have consequences. I would be much more in favor of it if I were free to ignore it but you know that won’t happen.

  23. John M, if we have to keep everything about income taxes the same except the filing status, which is what I think you are asking, when it comes to this issue the solution is to have people file as households. Of course with a flat tax we could get away from this issue altogether.

  24. I think John as a point. Just as the LDS church has been wise to avoid accepting various tax payer funds and the requirements that go along with it, it would have been wise for society to see that granting priviledges or benefits to certain tax payers as a result of their moral values (and actions) is going to come around and bite them.

    I was just thinking about the parable of the scorpion and the frog, which one is the government and which is the people?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scorpion_and_the_Frog

    Why should religious/moral people be surprised that an institution (government), which depended upon moral people in the first place would act in such away as to errode and eventually destroy those moral foundations that made the institution not only possible, but great?

  25. As a libertarian-ish person (love how consistent I am?), I think the ideal solution is to get government out of marriage (at the state or federal level). However, I applaud the recent NY legislation, because I know there’s a slim-to-none chance of gov’t actually exiting the marriage business, and so long as it’s going to be involved, gays should be permitted to enter into marriage just as straights are.

  26. ” because I know there’s a slim-to-none chance of gov’t actually exiting the marriage business, and so long as it’s going to be involved, gays should be permitted to enter into marriage just as straights are.”

    And that is why I think it is still correct to say that now NY is less involved in marriage.

  27. Aren’t they equally involved either way? They’re either preventing one group from getting married (involvement) or allowing that group to get married (involvement). I don’t see how there is more involvement. And Geoff seems to be saying the Feds shouldn’t be involved, but I don’t see how that pertains to this case that was done at the state level.

    Geoff’s whole post is confusing, though ldsphilosopher is helping me understand a little more. His stance doesn’t seem to reflect Libertarianism, but that may again be a result of my confusion.

    Everybody reading this right now does not believe that anybody should be able to marry anybody else. You do not believe that a lecherous 30-year-old man should be able to marry a six-year-old girl. You do not believe that a greedy 30-year-old man should be able to marry a rich, mentally incompetent woman confined to a mental institution so he can get her money.

    .
    These examples have nothing to do with two consenting adults, and your third example could easily be valid if the law was changed, polygamy has been a valid part of marriage throughout history in different cultures. It’s not something I agree with, but I don’t believe I have a valid reason to oppose it, which is how I feel about opposition to gay marriage.

  28. My confusion may be a result of being surrounded by people in Utah that call themselves libertarians, but want the government to prevent gay marriage, abortion, immigrants, legalized drugs, flag burning, etc. I just haven’t found too many that are consistent with any definition of libertarian that I’ve found.

  29. I want my position to be clear: if the government does license marriage, I think it should only license heterosexual marriage. For that reason, I stand squarely in support of the Church’s involvement in Prop 8. I just think the ideal world is one in which the government keeps its hands off entirely.

  30. The problem, as we just saw in New York, is that if the government licenses marriage it does so at the whim of the majority population. I think a lot of Christians have liked the licensing because it gives them de facto control of the institution. We saw this in our own history. But I think we’ve seen it in other ways as well, with groups on the margins of society often repressed. In places where traditional Christians became a minority suddenly they find themselves with marriage defined quite different from what they expect.

    In my opinion this is why the separation of Church and State is there and why it’s a good thing even if the nation has rarely lived up to it.

    JJohnson, I can’t make heads nor tails out of a lot of what goes on in Utah politics. So much of it especially with the tea party sorts seems frankly incoherent to me. I think that unfortunately for a lot of people it’s a way of saying, “keep things the way I like them” while trying to defend this via some ill understood principle.

  31. “You went back to 1800. Go back to 1700, and you won’t see marriage licenses at all. You’ll see marriage as a strictly private and religious affair.”

    ldsp, this isn’t really fully true. I understand why you are saying this, but it’s not really accurate the way you said it either.

    The real truth is that societies have recognized a special man-woman relationship and treated it special and different than other kinds of relationship for a very long time. Probably forever. (Though of course once we have no history, there is no way to know for sure.)

    It is also true that some societies recognized other types of relationships. I’ve seen a lot of those supporting gay marriage point out the native American practice of kindred spirits for a woman and woman relationship. But please bear in mind that they were not recognized as the same as a man-woman relationship either. So this argument doesn’t really work.

    Your statement that only recently government got involved with licenses is certainly true. But it’s also true of many things that were previously publicly recognized by society and later (as things grew more complex) needed government support.

    It is also true that *entering into marriage* used to be a very private affair. During the middle ages, the typical marriage as a common law marriage where the official church ceremony was performed just before the baby was born. However, *this was the concept of marriage back then*. A man and a woman deciding that they were married *did make them married.* Yet it still wasn’t *private*. Society still recognized the specialness of the relationship and took infidelity seriously, etc. It was still very much like marriage today with adultery being looked down upon.

    So while I agree with what you are saying factually, I feel it misses the point that Geoff is still basically correct. Marriage has always been man to woman, it’s always had a public element to it that partially defined it (even if government was not yet involved), and it was not primarily religious in nature most of the time it was primarily civic with a later religious overlay.

  32. I’d like to update this with a few thoughts.

    The first is that the easiest thing for me to do on this issue would be to adopt the standard libertarian position, expressed here and by Ron Paul, that the government should stay out of the marriage business for everybody. I am libertarian on most other issues, so I would be consistent and everybody would be happy because I wouldn’t be upsetting any apple carts and I would be in line with the current politically correct philosophy nationwide. I grew up in the SF Bay Area and had many gay friends even in high school and a gay roommate in college and have no problem with other peoples’ sexuality. In addition, my personal philosophy is very much “live and let live.” But there are two problems with this approach.

    1)I really do believe that man-woman marriage is different, and I really do believe that government should recognize this difference. From a purely practical standpoint, government, even a minimal, libertarian government, should care about people. Government should note down who is born, who their parents are, etc. Genealogists are glad this was done in many areas, for example. And government should be (minimally) involved in divorce to make sure the spouses and children are not abused. Libertarians believe in courts, and this means some government involvement in family law. It is clear to me that the male-female family unit is a different thing than other types of family units, and even a minimal government should recognize this.

    2)From a religious perspective, faithful Latter-day Saints need to get their minds around the fact that the Church has been extremely active in opposing state-sponsored same-sex marriage. Personally, I believe the Church is mostly concerned with protecting religious freedom, but many arguments have been made about the importance of traditional marriage, and libertarian-leaning Latter-day Saints like myself need to ponder why the Church is so involved and, ultimately, defend and support the Church.

  33. jjohnson, “These examples have nothing to do with two consenting adults”

    Define the the point at which one arrives scientifically as an adult. Now at what point is one psychologically an adult. Now just for fun, define an adult and make sure you can apply that definition across time and cultures and that the result is all equal.

    And it seems you run into the same problem as gay people do. “You can’t get married because society says so.” and “You’re not an adult because society says so.”
    Does one suddenly possess more mental and physical faculty at 18 (or 21) all of the sudden than one did at 17 (or 20)?
    Or am I wrong somewhere.

  34. Geoff: your update is indeed helpful.

    Re point 1: Can you explain why the government should be involved with keeping track of male-female reproduction in a marriage context specifically instead of only a geneological/birth certificate manner?

    There was a second point in your #2 which dealt with protecting spouses in divorce; please differentiate between the need for protection there when they are a man and woman who are divorcing versus two women who have co-habited (and shared all finances, etc.) for 15 years?

    Thanks.

    Oh, and I completely agree with your point #2: “Latter-day Saints need to get their minds around the fact…and, ultimately, defend and support the Church.” (Although, we might disagree on exactly what “support” looks like….)

  35. Setting aside the constitutional/philosophical arguments in your article, I think you’re starting with indefensible and circular premises in your definitions of marriage. You define it religiously and secularly; however, both are problematic.

    “The uniting of one woman and one man before God” – This may be settled among modern, conservatively-inclined religious people, but that’s not really an objective definition. What about non-Christian marriages? What about polygamous marriages (both historal-LDS and modern ones, still legal in some countries)? What about Christian denominations that accept gay marriage? Are those “non-traditional” marriages (even though some of them may actually be very traditional) valid to God? I believe you’ve hand-waved away all possible complications. Yours is probably an acceptable definition based on LDS or strictly-biblical authority, but since you’re using it as the a basis for a legal, constitutional argument I don’t think you can be so cavalier.

    “The uniting of one woman and one man in a public ceremony…etc”. Also not an objective description. In fact, the “public ceremony” aspect of marriage is by no means universal, nor has it been even in Christian history. Bruce mentioned this – in Medieval times marriage could be as simple as a couple moving in together, without any obligation of a public ceremony or even a notification to the Church. See Stephanie Coontz’s excellent “Marriage, a History” for dozens more historical examples counter to your definition. I think it’s valid to say that Marriage has OFTEN followed your definition, but there’s enough data to call into question whether marriage is inherently and necessarily what you say it is.

    However it would simplify things you can’t put the veneer of objectivity on what are essentially subjective, culturally-influenced definitions of marriage, however widely-accepted they appear to be. The premises you assume are the heart of the gay marriage debate, and by passing them over you’ve missed the boat!

  36. Geoff,
    As you said, “Personally, I believe the Church is mostly concerned with protecting religious freedom.”

    I think this is one aspect of it, but a decidedly minority aspect in the grand scheme of things. The church does not plead in support of the family in order to further religious freedom. That’s certainly not the eternal significance of the family — that it allows or fosters or protects religious freedom. I know that’s not exactly what you’re saying and correct me if I’m wrong but you see the church taking a stand now in defense of the family in order to avoid governmental oppression or regulation of the church in the future. That’s perhaps the “fallback” hope of the church… but that’s not a reason for arguing something is important. The church does not engage in political strategy.

    All we have to do to see the importance of the family is listen or read the words of the prophets with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    Neal A. Maxwell, 1994 – “How can a nation nurture family values without consistently valuing and protecting the family in its public policies? How can we value the family without valuing parenting? And how can we value parenting if we do not value marriage?”

    I won’t go into great detail, but read this talk to get the broader picture he is painting about the role of the family in society:
    http://classic.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=3a95425e0848b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

    This obviously wasn’t new doctrine and you could go back to Joseph Fielding Smith in 1972 who said, “The family is the most important organization in time or in eternity. Our purpose in life is to create for ourselves eternal family units.”

    So if the family is more important than the organization found in the Senate, Congress, office of the Presidency, United Nations, more important than state and local governmental organizations. More important than private sports clubs, more important than social organizations. More important than charitable organizations. More important than Young Women’s organizations, more important Elders Quorums or High Priest Quorums, more important than the Quorums of the Seventy, more important than the Quorums of the 12 Apostles, and the family is more important than the organization of the First Presidency of the Church.

    If we catch the vision of that statement that the family is the most important organization in eternity, then we try to understand our role in it, our place as God’s children and ultimately as joint-heirs with his Son Jesus Christ, we can see the importance of the family. That vision and the ultimate hope for the realization of it is indeed what the church is defending. It’s not a stop-gap strategy that the lawyers on the watch-tower see as a way to preserve the churches tax-exempt status. It’s not an attempt to draw a line in the sand so we don’t end up looking (even more) like bigots in the future when missionaries have to preach the gospel in same-sex homes.

    It seems the day will likely come when tithing is not deductible, when churches are taxed along with every other organization, perhaps the church universities will be closed or severely limited, and the church will stand on regardless. And perfectly correlated with all of this, I think we’ll see a decrease in morality and a rise in the necessity of using police-force against our neighbors and further disintegration of society as we know it, just as Elder Maxwell predicted if the family is not valued and defended.

  37. BrianJ, there are basic things that any government should do. The Constitution calls for a census, so that is clearly constitutional and should be accepted by small-government people like myself. How should the census be conducted? There is coordination that could be done between the federal government and a local government. The local government could keep track of who is married and who is in a civil union (again, not permitting and not licensing, just keeping track). This seems a legitimate purview of local government and something governments should do. Somebody has to issue birth certificates and driver’s licenses (although some libertarians would argue there is no need for driver’s licenses or any kind of ID, but that is not practical at this time). Many libertarians will argue that you should only answer the feds when it comes to your census, but it seems much less dangerous to give such information to your local town hall than to the leviathan federal government. So, I would see a process where people would be asked to inform their local governments when they were married, nothing more. When they have children, they should also inform their local governments and are required by the Constitution to inform the feds.

    Regarding a woman-woman marriage and divorce, well, I suppose you could argue they are the same thing, especially if one or both of the women are artificially inseminated (which again I have no problem with). The purpose of local government involvement should be to keep track of the children involved to facilitate any family law issues that may arise. Somebody has to issue birth certificates so there is a record of the birth. If you want to argue that there is no need to differentiate between types of marriages in this case, you could probably argue that case, and that is where we are going as a society, but again I see man-woman marriage as a fundamentally different thing that a same-sex marriage, so I would personally call them different things. (One is a marriage and the other is a civil union).

    Just a note of irony here: my position on this issue is no different than Barack Obama and the majority of Democrats in the Senate and House, so it is rather ironic that some see it as some far-out right-wing position. When Jon Huntsman came out in favor of civil unions, he was heralded as a great social moderate. Oh the irony!

    Chris, totally agree with your #41, and you expressed it better than I could have, so thanks for that.

  38. It seems then that your argument for government involvement* in marriage rests on three factors:

    1) Federal Census
    2) Protection in divorce (and I’ll assume you’d include protections during marriage, such as hospital visitation)
    3) Keeping track of a child’s parents

    Please correct me if I missed anything.

    *I’m using “involvement” broadly here, not necessarily to mean “control over.” I’m just trying to get at your reasons for having the government—at any level—even have a word like “marriage” in its vocabulary.

    ________

    “If you want to argue…” Just to clarify: I’m not trying to make any argument (yet anyway). I’m just trying to understand yours :)

    “I see man-woman marriage as a fundamentally different thing that a same-sex marriage, so I would personally call them different things. (One is a marriage and the other is a civil union).” Okay, but I’m trying to understand why you think government should agree to your terminology**.

    I don’t want this comment of mine to raise too many questions and risk not having some answered, but I’ll go ahead and bring up one more question from your comment #37 since it is related: “It is clear to me that the male-female family unit is a different thing than other types of family units, and even a minimal government should recognize this.” I’m going to have to pick your brain on this one—unless, of course, you’re speaking strictly from your own personal religious perspective and not implying that government should follow you on this.

    **My question is not about political strategy, but about what you view as ideal. Strategically, I’ve argued for a long time that “same-sex marriage” is a bad strategy politically, instead favoring what the state of WA recently passed where “marriage” and “domestic partnership” are different in name only.

  39. BrianJ, I’m not promising I will answer all of your questions, but I will try. I argue in this post that purely on a civil, secular government basis that marriage is different than anything else. Marriage has an objective, well-understood meaning, which is defined many times in the post. That meaning should not be changed if we want to add additional protections to people who are demanding (in many cases very justly) new protections. So, if we accept, as I think you do, that it is not really a good thing for society to prevent two people who have been living together from visiting each other in the hospital, then we need to create a new protection for these people. (Actually, from a libertarian perspective, a private hospital can set up whatever rules it wants, and if people don’t like it, go to another hospital, so perhaps we should agree that hospital visitation is only an issue at public hospitals). But if we agree that public hospitals should provide equal access, it should happen because we agree people who have strong relationships with others should be able to visit each other in the hospital. It is not about marriage, which has a clearly defined purpose. This is about civil unions or a domestic partnership or something similar.

    Government should agree to my terminology simply for domestic peace and tranquility and for consistency. You don’t change the meanings of long-standing institutions without reason. “Firefighters” mean one thing, they are a government institution meant to fight fires wherever they occur. They are not meant to be a mountain biking team or a flag pole climbing unit or anything else. They are firefighters. So, purely from a secular, non-religious standpoint, marriage is one thing, the union of one man and one woman, and other things are another thing and should be called by other names. This is really my only point.

    Btw, I am sure that if we brainstormed we could come up with several dozen other reasons for local government to get involved with marriage beyond the three you mention, but they are not occurring to me now for whatever reason.

  40. “you think government should agree to your terminology”

    Brian J, for one government stands for we the people and a vast majority of the people throughout history and up to now have seen marriage meaning man/woman. Society may go back and forth between whether or not homosexuality is encouraged or tolerated, but the people have pretty much always seen marriage as meaning a man makes a serious commitment to a woman and vice versa.

    It’s only with the recent post-modernity, structuralism and relativism that we see certain aspects of society picking apart previously held notions about the meaning of words or group and seeking to redefine them to their own liking. So it’s an irony of the highest order for you to suggest that the marriage traditionalists are trying to force their terminology onto the government when it’s exactly the opposite.

  41. Geoff B: your reply clarifies a lot. Thanks for taking the time to do that. If I can continue to test your patience, I will ask for just a bit more confirmation that I understand your point correctly.

    “Marriage has an objective, well-understood meaning, which is defined many times in the post. That meaning should not be changed if we want to add additional protections to [other types of arrangements]….” This sounds like you’d agree with the WA R-71 “everything but marriage bill,” because it A) does not seek to redefine any terms, B) engages government in the recognition of long-term relationships (that are fundamentally private but at some point may need community involvement), C) is done at the state, rather than federal, level. On the other hand, you disagree with NY’s decision because it violates point A (even though on B and C you’re still okay with it). Right?

    (I’m pretty sure I’m right, and reading over your original post makes me think I’m definitely right, so I apologize if I’m asking you to confirm something you already stated several times. But like I said, I found the original post difficult to follow….)

    If I’m right, then at this point I would only need you to expound on why you “see man-woman marriage as a fundamentally different thing that a same-sex marriage.”

    chris: I think you are taking issue with something very much beside my point. Specifically, I did not “suggest that the marriage traditionalists are trying to force their terminology onto the government.” Rather, the implication of my question for Geoff was that “marriage traditionalists” are trying to force the government (meaning, we the people) to strictly maintain a static definition of a word. That’s quite different than how you read it, and negates the irony you apparently found offensive.

  42. BrianJ, I think you got my point, and I really, really appreciate the thoughtful and kind way you are handling this issue. This is really a model of how you should handle internet interactions, and thanks for that.

    I have written about 5000 words so far on this issue if you include the original post and the comments. I am all written out. I don’t think I could add anything else and express it differently than I already have. At this point, you either “get” the difference or you don’t. It seems screamingly obvious to me, but then many things that seem obvious to me are not obvious to others. In this particular case there is nothing more that I could add.

    I will defend Chris’ response, however, because again his point is one of those things that seem screamingly obvious to me. The SSM supporting community could have concentrated on getting hospital visitation rights, pension rights, immigration equality rights, adoption rights and issues like this that would have kept away from the word “marriage.” Or they could have concentrated on “marriage.” One is an appeal to equal rights, the other is an attempt to change the definition of an institution. I think the concentration on marriage was a dumb move and raised a lot of unnecessary ire.

    And with that, I’m pretty much done here. I’d much rather write about the economy, Church history and the occasional insight I get from reading the scriptures or going to church or the temple.

    I’ll let others have the last word, and then I’m going to close comments on this thread.

  43. “Although, we might disagree on exactly what “support” looks like…”

    Once words no longer mean what they mean, there is nothing left to discuss.

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