Thursday, June 20, 2013

Get Government Out of Marriage: An Austrian Perspective

Underlying the same-sex marriage controversy are two legitimate but seemingly irreconcilable concerns.  On one hand "live and let live" is a quintessential American attitude.  After all, many reason, why shouldn't gay Americans live as they please and enjoy the same rights as everyone else as long as they are not harming anyone else?  This is the instinctive, gut level response of many libertarians including Gary Johnson, our presidential standard bearer, and the Cato Institute.

Conservatives fear the long term unseen consequences that may result from a radical redefinition of one of society's bedrock institutions.  Their concerns are not without merit.  In States where same sex marriage has been legalized, vital faith based social service agencies have been forced to cease operations.  Private business operators, who, as a matter of conscience have wished to withhold services from same-sex couples, face civil and criminal penalties.  Surely libertarians cannot condone such state sponsored coercion.

The Austrian method of analyzing human action via verbal thought exercises reveals a common sense resolution to this conflict.  Traditional marriage would seem to have originated as a logical solution to resolve the problems created by heterosexual relations, problems that would not emerge from homosexual relations.  Let’s consider the thought exercise that follows.

Long before there were civilizations, nation states, governments, laws or religious dogma, there were people.  Without going back to the either the scientific or religious origin of our species, it is safe to say that these people came from other people by means of sexual intercourse.

I think that we can also take it as a given that human beings are hard wired for sexual activity.  And even back then we can assume that there were a variety of preferences in the marketplace for sexual partners.  Some men preferred women while other men preferred men.  Likewise some women preferred men while others preferred other females.

However, heterosexual unions had much more profound and long lasting outcomes than same sex encounters.  In her landmark anthropological study, Male & Female, Margaret Meade observed that in the sex act for males was, “originally focused to no goal beyond immediate discharge”.  And again, “The male sex act is immediately self resolving and self satisfying”.  This would seem to hold true in any male-female, male-male or even female-female encounter.  She then goes on to point out that for the woman in a male-female relationship, “the female analogue is not the single copulatory experience”.  Instead it is just the beginning of “the whole cycle of pregnancy, birth and lactation”; a cycle that can last for several years and start anew shortly after each childbirth.

Thus one can easily imagine that, upon facing such far reaching consequences of sexual activity, the woman of the primitive world would begin to insist on some sort commitment of care and support from her partner prior to granting sexual favors.  Likewise, one could imagine a man agreeing to this pact if he could be assured of the exclusivity of her affections.

Thus we can logically discern a plausible basis for male-female marriage that is rooted in human action.  And while same sex couples of that era may have felt a deep affection for one another, there was no biological or economic necessity to formalize their relationship.

This institution male-female marriage would have come into existence though voluntary and mutual consent and free from the coercion of the state or the taboos and totems of religion.

These voluntary associations are the basis of civil society.  In Libertarianism – A Primer, Cato’s David Boaz defines civil society, assesses its utility in facilitating human happiness and the proper role of government to said civil society.

“Civil society may be broadly defined as all the natural and voluntary associations in society.”

“We want to associate with others to achieve instrumental ends – producing more food, exchanging goods, developing new technology – but also because we feel a deep need for connectedness, for love and friendship and community.  The associations we form with others make up what we call civil society.”

“Government’s protection of individual rights is vital for creating a space in which people can pursue their many and varied interests in voluntary association with others. When government expands beyond that role, however, it pushes into the realm of civil society.  As government borrowing “crowds out” private borrowing, government activity in any field crowds out voluntary activity.”

Marriage is a bedrock institution of civil society.  Throughout the ages men and women have married for many reasons including love, companionship, procreation, money, power, prestige as well as social / familial obligation.  They have voluntarily married for millennia without the benefit of state incentive, regulation or subsidy.

Sadly we live in an era of overreaching government where no aspect of human life goes untouched including marriage.  Because the modern nanny state has elected to license marriage and to grant specific immunities and privileges to married couples, it has politicized an age old civil institution. Everything that government touches becomes a political battleground including education, charity, tax codes, scientific research and on and on.  Therefore, it is only natural that same sex couples will demand the same legal rights and protections that heterosexual couples enjoy.

However, for libertarians to endorse the “legalization” of same sex marriage is capitulation to the statists.   By doing so, they implicitly acknowledge that the state, not consenting individuals, has the right to decide what constitutes marriage and to override civil institutions.

Calls for the redefinition of marriage play into the hands of the collectivists.  In his treatise, Socialism, Ludwig von Mises explores Socialism’s agenda as regards sex, marriage and family.

“Proposals to transform the relations between the sexes have long gone hand in hand with plans for the socialization of the means of production. Marriage is to disappear along with private property, giving place to an arrangement more in harmony with the fundamental facts of sex. When man is liberated from the yoke of economic labour, love is to be liberated from all the economic trammels which have profaned it. Socialism promises not only welfare — wealth for all — but universal happiness in love as well. This part of its programme has been the source of much of its popularity. It is significant that no other German socialist book was more widely read or more effective as propaganda than Bebel's Woman and Socialism, which is dedicated above all to the message of free love.”

“Marxism indeed seeks to combat marriage just as it seeks to justify the abolition of private property, by attempting to demonstrate its origin in history.… For the Marxist, historical research is merely a means of political agitation.”

Without even being explicitly Marxist, our government pretty much destroys everything that it touches from the economy, to currency, to health insurance, to retirement savings and mail delivery.  While professing to be helpful, the welfare state has destroyed family formation and stability.  In a world of starving people, government pays farmers not to produce and to destroy food.

Therefore we must get the government out of the marriage business for both gays and straights.
Much of the civil protections and privileges that people seek in marriage can be accomplished via existing contract law.  What does not exist will soon be invented by lawyers who are nothing if not resourceful.

Proponents of the “marriage equality” movement compare it to the civil rights movement of a half century earlier.  Clearly libertarians aspire to world where all people of diverse backgrounds and outlooks can enjoy life and the liberty to pursue happiness.  However there is right way and a wrong way to go about things.

During the civil right struggle of the 1960s Ayn Rand denounced racism as “the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism”.  Still, she could not support the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 denouncing it as, “the worst breach of property rights in the sorry record of American history in respect to that subject”.

Let’s not repeat this mistake by using government force to bestow “rights” on one group at the expense of others.  Frederick Bastiat warns against the tendency to counterbalance one bad set of laws with an equally unjust set of legislation: “As soon as the plundered classes gain political power, they establish a system of reprisals against other classes.”  This is what happened with the Civil Right Act of 1964 and is happening now with the violations of property and religious rights that we have seen in states where same sex marriage was legalized.


Better that we wipe the slate clean and get government out of marriage altogether.  Allow freely acting human beings to define their own marriages via voluntary personal contracts to be enforced by the courts.  This frees people to be creative in their lifestyle choices and restores government to its proper role.


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