A lot of cultural commentators are confused these days. They believe that people’s views on same sex marriage are solely a reflection of their religious beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, some things could be further from the truth – like saying that Al Sharpton has integrity or that Dan Savage has class. But you get the point. The same sex marriage debate is about politics. To call it a religious debate is to miss the point entirely. Your stance on same sex marriage should vary depending on whether you consider yourself to be a conservative, a liberal, or a libertarian.
For conservatives, the issue is pretty simple. The institution of marriage predates any existing government or nation. So no government has a right to redefine marriage. But it is okay for the government to become entangled with marriage towards the end of promoting marriage. The institution is good. It tames men. It protects women. It is good for children. Therefore, it is worth promoting.
Conservatives view efforts to redefine marriage as philosophically unacceptable. That government should recognize an institution in one move and then redefine it in another is an unacceptable encroachment on a religious institution. Recognize yes, redefine no. It is not their religion that leads them to this conclusion. It is their politics. It is also common sense. Conservatives rightly scoff at the notion of calling same sex unions “marriage” just as they scoff at the idea of calling three-sided objects rectangular.
Conservatives are unimpressed with overly simplistic appeals to freedom. When evaluating the “freedom to marry” they refuse to stop at the question “Is it free?” They also ask the question “Is it good?” Same sex marriage does not tame men, it does not protect women, and it is not good for or even conducive to raising children. Hence, there is no need for government recognition of same-sex unions.
Nor are conservatives impressed with overly simplistic appeals to equality. One cannot even say that male-male unions are equal to female-female unions. The former are much less stable than the latter. How could one possibly assert sameness between same-sexed and opposite-sexed unions?
Put simply, conservatives defend the status quo on marriage because they can see no compelling reason for the government to promote same sex unions. And they reject the authority of the government to equate unequal things.
For liberals, the issue is also very simple. In the liberal mind, government has unlimited authority to fundamentally transform institutions as long as it is adhering to a vision of equality. It does not matter that marriage predated government. Government can seize and redefine institutions as long as it is acting on behalf of a group that claims to have suffered from negative stigma. It is true that, on average, homosexuals are more educated and wealthier than heterosexuals. But they have been subjected to ridicule and ostracism. In the liberal mind, that alone justifies government intervention.
Liberals handle claims of inequality on an incremental basis. It is true that redefining marriage to include same-sex unions will open the door to efforts to legalize polygamy. But liberals do not think of all possible ramifications when they seek to advance a “solution” to a “problem.” Nor is it in their interests to do so. The process of reducing stigma must be done incrementally or it will backfire.
When arguments for polygamy do arise, liberals will weigh them in conjunction with their effects on other groups. The argument that Mormons have been historically oppressed will have to be weighed against claims that polygamy advances the oppression of women. Regardless, the issue will be decided based on its presumed effects upon groups, rather than individuals. According to liberals, rights are not given to individuals by God. They are given to groups by government.
Put simply, liberals reject the status quo on marriage because they see equality as a compelling reason for the government to promote same sex unions. And they accept the authority of the government to equate unequal things – even at the expense of redefining institutions that predate the existence of the government.
For libertarians, recognizing marriage in any form is problematic. The true libertarian considers both the conservative and the liberal to be misguided on the issue. Libertarians believe the conservative is wrong to think that government should be in the business of promoting a religious institution. Libertarians believe the liberal is even more misguided to believe that government should recognize and regulate an even broader range of relationships than it already does.
Many self-proclaimed libertarians such as Neal Boortz were outraged at North Carolina voters’ recent affirmation (61% to 39%) of traditional marriage. These confused libertarians are really social liberals with fiscally conservative leanings. They have failed to grasp the merit in preventing a judicial fiat that would have produced greater entanglement between the government and private relationships.
Many liberal Christians were also disappointed by the passage of Amendment One in North Carolina. But it wasn’t their religion that compelled them to oppose it. Liberal Christians are simply more committed to their politics than they are to God. And they value His approval less than that of their fellow man.