Friday, September 5, 2008

Gay Marriage

The question of Gay Marriage provides another important litmus test for libertarian theory. Let's admit that the issue hinges almost entirely on one's beliefs about the Nature of the institution of marriage. As a Roman Catholic, I believe that marriage is a religious ceremony, a sacrament, and a great excuse to get your family and friends together for a party. As a libertarian Roman Catholic, I believe it is essentially a three-way promise (or contract) between a husband, wife, and God. It is also a highly efficient way to raise children. The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church have ruled that Gay Marriage is contrary to church doctrine. As a philosopher, I do not find the logic presented in support of this view to be very compelling, therefore, like many other Catholics, I tend to disagree with the hierarchy. I also disagree with the church on a few other issues too. But I remain a Roman Catholic because I still agree with most of what it says and does, and because the church has not excommunicated me for disagreeing. (Actually, the church is very tolerant of dissenters like myself.) In other words, I am a Catholic because I choose to be one, and because the church chooses to allow me to remain a member. No one forces me to remain a Catholic and no one forces the Church to keep me: entry and exit are open! But most importantly, the government has nothing to do with those decisions. Now, unfortunately, for a variety of reasons marriage is now, not only a private religious institution, but also a sociopolitical institution embedded in legality; hence the proverbial "marriage license!" Today marriage has become an institution that governments use to redistribute resources. The best examples are laws that govern inheritance, health insurance, child support, taxation, even college loans. The issue here is how much coercive power are you willing to grant government to use marital status as an instrument of redistribution of resources? Given that libertarians are against government redistribution in general, most libertarians prefer to treat civil marriage as a contract between couples that settles questions concerning disposition of property and children in the case of death or dissolution of that contract. We call these contracts civil unions. In this sense, I believe individuals ought to be able to freely enter into these legal agreements regardless of their sexual preference. In fact, given the current state of the economy we can expect a lot more gay and straight co-habitation. Those individuals ought to be able to forge legal contracts with one another too! As for marriage as a religious institution, churches ought to be able to enforce their own rules. Some religious denominations are supportive of gay marriage, others do not. If you are gay, the Roman Catholic Church currently won't allow you to marry someone of the same sex. But you can always find a church that will marry you. Or, you can get together with other gay Catholics and try to convince the hierarchy that their reasoning is flawed. Who knows, someday the Pope might change his mind. As the situation stands in the United States, marriage is both a religious and a civil institution. Most of us libertarians would prefer to separate those two functions. We certainly do not need the government to dictate religious doctrine, or even moral doctrine (see my earlier blog on legal moralism). Religious tolerance and governmental neutrality are cornerstones of libertarian doctrine. Finally, it is important to note that in the United States the institution of marriage is on the rocks. Why? All libertarians (without exception!) agree that government is the primary culprit. One obvious factor is a welfare policy that encourages the the avoidance or dissolution of marriages as a precondition for receiving welfare. More on that later. . .

Freedom's Philosopher

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