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The Libertarian Case Against Gay Marriage

Opponents of same-sex marriage have marshaled all sorts of arguments to make their case, from the rather alarmist view that it would de-sanctify and ultimately destroy heterosexual marriage to the assertion that it would logically lead to polygamy and the downfall of Western civilization. None of these arguments—to my mind, at least—make the least amount of sense, and they have all been singularly ineffective in beating back the rising tide of sentiment in favor of allowing same-sex couples the “right” to marry.

The problem with these arguments is that they are all rooted in religion or in some secular concept of morality alien to American culture in the 21st century—a culture that is characterized by relativism, impiety, and a preoccupation with other matters that make this issue less pressing than it otherwise might be. Yet there is an effective conservative—or rather libertarian—case to be made against legalizing gay marriage, one that can be summarized by the old aphorism: be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.

The imposition of a legal framework on the intricate web of relationships that have previously existed in the realm of freedom—that is, outside the law and entirely dependent on the trust and compliance of the individuals involved—would not only be a setback for liberty but a disaster for those it supposedly benefits: gay people themselves.

Of course, we already have gay marriages. Just as heterosexual marriage, as an institution, preceded the invention of the state, so the homosexual version existed long before anyone thought to give it legal sanction. Extending the authority of the state into territory previously untouched by its tender ministrations, legalizing relationships that had developed and been found rewarding entirely without this imprimatur, would wreak havoc where harmony once prevailed. Imagine a relationship of some duration in which one partner, the breadwinner, had supported his or her partner without much thought about the economics of the matter: one had stayed home and tended the house, while the other had been in the workforce, bringing home the bacon. This division of labor had prevailed for many years, not requiring any written contract or threat of legal action to enforce its provisions.


Then, suddenly, they are legally married—or, in certain states, considered married under the common law. This changes the relationship, and not for the better. For now the property of the breadwinner is not his or her own: half of it belongs to the stay-at-home. Before when they argued, money was never an issue: now, when the going gets rough, the threat of divorce—and the specter of alimony—hangs over the relationship, and the mere possibility casts its dark shadow over what had once been a sunlit field.

If and when gay marriage comes to pass, its advocates will have a much harder time convincing their fellow homosexuals to exercise their “right” than they did in persuading the rest of the country to grant it. That’s because they have never explained—and never could explain—why it would make sense for gays to entangle themselves in a regulatory web and risk getting into legal disputes over divorce, alimony, and the division of property.

Marriage evolved because of the existence of children: without them, the institution loses its biological, economic, and historical basis, its very reason for being. This is not to say childless couples—including gay couples—are any less worthy (or less married) than others. It means only that they are not bound by necessity to a mutual commitment involving the ongoing investment of considerable resources.

From two sets of given circumstances, two parallel traditions have evolved: one, centered around the rearing of children, is heterosexual marriage, the habits and rules of which have been recognized and formalized by the state. The reason for this recognition is simple: the welfare of the children, who must be protected from neglect and abuse.

The various childless unions and alternative relationships that are an increasing factor in modern society have evolved informally, with minimal state intervention. Rather than anchored by necessity, they are governed by the centrality of freedom.

The prospect of freedom—not only from traditional moral restraints but from legal burdens and responsibilities—is part of what made homosexuality appealing in the early days of the gay-liberation movement. At any rate, society’s lack of interest in formalizing the love lives of the nation’s homosexuals did not result in any decrease in homosexuality or make it any less visible. Indeed, if the experience of the past 30 years means anything, quite the opposite is the case. By superimposing the legal and social constraints of heterosexual marriage on gay relationships, we will succeed only in de-eroticizing them. Are gay marriage advocates trying to take the gayness out of homosexuality?

The gay-rights movement took its cues from the civil rights movement, modeling its grievances on those advanced by the moderate wing led by Dr. Martin Luther King and crafting a legislative agenda borrowed from the NAACP and allied organizations: the passage of anti-discrimination laws—covering housing, employment, and public accommodations—at the local and national level. Efforts to institutionalize gay marriage have followed this course, with “equality” as the goal.

But the civil rights paradigm never really fit: unlike most African-Americans, lesbians and gay men can render their minority status invisible. Furthermore, their economic status is not analogous—indeed, there are studies that show gay men, at least, are economically better off on average than heterosexuals. They tend to be better educated, have better jobs, and these days are not at all what one could call an oppressed minority. According to GayAgenda.com, “studies show that [gay] Americans are twice as likely to have graduated from college, twice as likely to have an individual income over $60,000 and twice as likely to have a household income of $250,000 or more.”

Gays an oppressed minority group? I don’t think so.

The gay-liberation movement started as a protest against state oppression. The earliest gay-rights organizations, such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, sought to legalize homosexual activity, then illegal per se. The movement was radicalized in the 1960s over police harassment. A gay bar on New York City’s Christopher Street, known as the Stonewall, was the scene of a three-day riot provoked by a police raid. Tired of being subjected to continual assault by the boys in blue, gay people fought back—and won. At the time, gay bars were under general attack from the New York State Liquor Authority, which pulled licenses as soon as a bar’s reputation as a gay gathering place became apparent. Activists of that era concentrated their fire on the issues that really mattered to the gay person in the street: the legalization of homosexual conduct and the protection of gay institutions.

As gay activists grew older, however, and began to channel their political energy into the Democratic Party, they entered a new and more “moderate” phase. Instead of celebrating their unique identity and history, they undertook the arid quest for equality—which meant, in practice, battling “discrimination” in employment and housing, a marginal issue for most gay people—and finally taking up the crusade for gay marriage.

Instead of battling the state, they began to use the state against their perceived enemies. As it became fashionable and politically correct to be “pro-gay,” a propaganda campaign was undertaken in the public schools, epitomized by the infamous “Rainbow Curriculum” and the equally notorious tome for totsHeather Has Two Mommies. For liberals, who see the state not as Nietzsche’s “cold monster” but as a warm and caring therapist who is there to help, this was only natural. The Therapeutic State, after all, is meant to transform society into a liberal utopia where no one judges anyone and everyone listens to NPR.

These legislative efforts are largely educational: once enacted, anti-discrimination ordinances in housing, for example, are meant to show that the state is taking a side and indirectly teaching citizens a lesson—that it’s wrong to discriminate against gays. The reality on the ground, however, is a different matter: since there’s no way to know if one is being discriminated against on account of one’s presumed sexuality—and since gays have the choice not to divulge that information—it is impossible to be sure if such discrimination has occurred, short of a “No Gays Need Apply” sign on the door. Moreover, landlords, even the bigots among them, are hardly upset when a couple of gays move in, fix up the place to look like something out of House & Garden, and pay the rent on time. The homosexual agenda of today has little relevance to the way gay people actually live their lives.

[1]But the legislative agenda of the modern gay-rights movement is not meant to be useful to the gay person in the street: it is meant to garner support from heterosexual liberals and others with access to power. It is meant to assure the careers of aspiring gay politicos and boost the fortunes of the left wing of the Democratic Party. The gay-marriage campaign is the culmination of this distancing trend, the reductio ad absurdum of the civil rights paradigm.

The modern gay-rights movement is all about securing the symbols of societal acceptance. It is a defensive strategy, one that attempts to define homosexuals as an officially sanctioned victim group afflicted with an inherent disability, a disadvantage that must be compensated for legislatively. But if “gay pride” means anything, it means not wanting, needing, or seeking any sort of acceptance but self-acceptance. Marriage is a social institution designed by heterosexuals for heterosexuals: why should gay people settle for their cast-off hand-me-downs?

Justin Raimondo is editorial director of Antiwar.com [2] and author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [3].

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67 Comments (Open | Close)

67 Comments To "The Libertarian Case Against Gay Marriage"

#1 Comment By Georgina Davenport On April 2, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

By this argument, Peterson should argue against ALL marriages. But he is so kind in wanting to spare just the gays from the horror of marriages!!

#2 Comment By Alex On April 2, 2013 @ 11:15 pm

The fact that government marriage is a drag on many relationships is a caveat for heterosexuals as well. The fact that heterosexuals may produce children has been shown, ad nauseum, to be irrelevant.

The real Libertarian case against gay marriage should come from a strong distaste for social enginerring. Ther are are ways to write health care, child custody & inheritance laws that is marriage neutral. Rewarding any two people via the tax code for shacking up together and having children is plain and simply the government actively promoting a certain culture and a particular lifestyle. This should be against any libertarian’s constitution.

As a libertarian, it is easy to see how the sheer idiocy of the arguments most often hoisted against gay-marriage is frustrating to my idealogical companions. We should not, however, let this feeling drive us to jump on the gay-rights bandwagon. We must oppose government intervention in culture, like we oppose it in economics. Moreover, we should ask if gay marriage promotes our vision of limited government. I fear by accepting gay-marriage we are missing a critical opportunity to bring the debate about the validity of government marriage into the public sphere.

#3 Comment By Carpenter On April 25, 2013 @ 11:13 am

The West is dying. We do not have enough children, in any Western country, and so our peoples are decreasing in numbers. Leftists think this is good and applaud it; those of us who care about what the West has accomplished do not agree.

This has in large part been the result of leftist policies that have actively sought to destroy the traditional way of life in which family was the basis for society, where a man and a woman married and had children. It is clear we must hold that family in reverence and focus on it. Precisely for the reason leftist extremists are against it: it is the only way for us to have a hope of surviving demographically.

The Left seeks to turn women against men and called rising divorces in the 1980s “a good start”. They push for homosexuality for the same reason: there should be less married couples, less children. They push for mass immigration to replace Westerners, because then they can permanently win the elections and put their own elite in power. (This is why they don’t care the least that Arab immigrants in Europe are generally against homosexuality, feminism and unmarried life, and have many children; that is good, whereas when Europeans have many children it is bad.)

Pushing for homosexual marriage is just one way this agenda is promoted. There are those who are born genetically homosexual, but there are also those who turn to the homosexual subculture for other reasons: note that three quarters of homosexual women in the U.S. are obese, and therefore have difficulty finding a man. Note that almost half of homosexual women have been sexually assaulted in their childhood. Same goes for many homosexual men. And many simply turn to this subculture for the promise of carefree sex, drugs and alcohol.

It is to increase this group of people, who could live either homosexual lives or heterosexual lives, that the Left pushes for homosexual marriage, and any other sort of “right”, propaganda, privilege or government funding for homosexuality that they can think of. In the U.S. as in Europe. Homosexual marriage is just one of the factors that must be exposed for what it is, part of an agenda. Feminism, homosexuality, and license to vice are meant to decrease Western births, while our countries are filled with left-voting immigrants. Who can look at the world today and say that is a good thing?

#4 Comment By C.X. Carter On April 25, 2013 @ 11:37 am

Fascinating claim, Carpenter, hidden within your straw person constructions and unverified assertions (not “untrue,” simply “unverified” at the moment — please substantiate your statistics!): the Left wants to replace Westerners with devout, fertile groups who hold anti-homosexual, anti-feminist, generally anti-progressive views — so they can “permanently” win the elections. Until, of course, those populations are settled and vote for those who share their values. Which wouldn’t be the Left you describe, it would be ultra-religious conservatives of their particular stripe. I guess your feared “Left” is so brilliant in undermining their enemies that they’re working toward undermining themselves? The Left you describe seems more like Lex Luthor’s bubbling Legion of Super-villains than some sinister Marxist cultural cabal — they have Batman trapped in a pit, but forgot to remove his utility belt, eh?

There are conceivably many reasons to oppose the nebulous “Left” you describe. But you are being absurd by asserting the idea that they’d try to destroy conservative European values by willingly bringing in a voter base that will quickly outnumber them and vote down their liberal European values. At least, to assert it without any substantiation other than the words you put in their mouths.

Rational discourse! It is a wonderful thing. Please pursue it.

#5 Comment By brians On April 25, 2013 @ 11:04 pm

“But you are being absurd by asserting the idea that they’d try to destroy conservative European values by willingly bringing in a voter base that will quickly outnumber them and vote down their liberal European values. At least, to assert it without any substantiation other than the words you put in their mouths.”

It would be absurd, wouldn’t it, if it weren’t actually happening. Shouldn’t need a double blind study and a bunch of statistics to see the obvious in western Europe. I, for one, won’t miss the Glee commercials when it all goes down on this side of the pond.

#6 Comment By Pilar On June 27, 2013 @ 10:49 am

This is ridiculous. I cannot even believe this was written and published.

#7 Comment By yourname2000 On June 27, 2013 @ 8:28 pm

This is probably one of the stupidest arguments attempting to render marriage equality “unnecessary” that I’ve ever heard. As others have said, all of these “reasons” would be valid to keep anyone, gay or straight, from wanting to be married.

Gay people want to (and do) get married for the same reasons that straight people do: to codify their relationships in the eyes of themselves, each other, their families and friends, and “in the eyes of God”. They have done so in Canada (my country) for years –getting the right did not temper anyone’s desire to exercise it. And in many states of the union, gays have sought to be encumbered by legal marriage even without (until yesterday) access to the 1000+ federal benefits afforded traditional spouses. If marriage is “good” and creates stability in society (which I believe it does), then it’s good for all. Even if gays are only 2% of the population, extending that stability to that 2% will benefit the whole.

We’ve had marriage equality up here for up to 10 years….the sky has not fallen in; no one wants to marry his horse (not that they could: surely the horse would say “neigh” to that, hahaha); and heterosexuals still marry in high numbers and continue to raise beautiful children. The author doesn’t need to understand “why” gay people want to marry (anymore than he needs to understand why a citizen would choose Mohammed over Jesus Christ)…it should be enough to simply accept that a person has his reasons, and –as we all are–is making the best decisions for himself (and his partner) as he can.

As to the assertion that “gays are not an oppressed minority group”, that’s just pure fantasy by someone who clearly has his head in the sand (if not stuck somewhere else on his body). 😉

#8 Comment By Rob Richards On July 1, 2013 @ 1:12 am

Raimundo’s arguments were shot down in 1969 when Michael Gilson created the modern Libertarian legal reform and world movement.

Gilson also was a if not the driving force for the option of gay marriage/civil unions when even gays thought he was nuts. This had nothing to do with the Democrats. Now even the new Pope agrees with Gilson on civil unions.

Raimundo confuses –like many formerly right wingers joining the movement–(coercive) government and law. Actual pro-libertarians understand civic Libertarianism as about making application of natural law consistent and every government program rights-based and voluntary by legalizing Libertarian communities or options.

Readers should check out [6] for how Libs are working on world legal reform. Libs are working in many countries on these issues, something Raimundo does not seem to get, or is soft-pedaling to make nice with conservatives.

#9 Comment By BTC On February 19, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

I can only assume this piece was satire.

#10 Comment By Libertrian Representative On March 29, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

As libertrians, we believe government should not impede or prevent a fundamental right of two consenting adults. Don’t listen to propaganda. Spread the word that libertarians are for the people. Do your research! Vote libertarian for gay rights, personal freedoms, ending the IRS and keeping the same revenue (see the fair tax act).

#11 Comment By Libertrian Representative On March 29, 2014 @ 7:27 pm

And protecting our own borders ONLY and bringing all the troops home (including Japan, and South Korea) and not rebuilding countries from illegal wars that would cease. The Constitution, gun rights, and really making this the land of the free, are just some of the things that libertarians stand form. We’re more conservative and more liberal in the best ways possible. We are the best of both worlds – now, voting democratic or republican (aside from Rand Paul, potentially) is voting for the same thing. Liberty minded people or libertarians are the answer for our future. Now is our chance to claim our country for real freedom.

#12 Comment By Jude On May 22, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

Raimundo is possibly making a point that is unfortunately lost in the absurdity of the rest. Personally, I am against the notion that any one group should be afforded a special benefit, other than say a dependent tax deduction.

Married people enjoy many hidden benefits, even non-governmental, for example a spouse being covered by an employer-paid healthcare plan. I think either any covered person be able to assign insurance benefits to anyone of their choice, or spouses are not covered.

Marriage also offers a spouse decision making power in all important circumstances, be they over money or healthcare decisions.

The latter has been particularly important to gays because of the HIV pandemic. Before gay marriage, even with power of attorney and healthcare proxy power, hospitals would routinely deny these legal decision rights to partners of gay persons.

Thus, while I feel that any person should be able to assign to any individual the full rights and responsibilities of a spouse, since our still backwards society recognizes “marriage” as uniquely special, I fully support the notion of gay marriage.

Especially in light of the historical emotional suffering gays have endured and continue to endure, regardless of Raimundo’s ridiculous assertion that gays are no longer an oppressed group.

#13 Comment By Gordon Dunlap On April 28, 2015 @ 2:48 pm

OP has no idea what Libertarians believe. The state has NO business approving or disapproving of ANYONE’S decision to associate in any capacity with another person, PERIOD.

#14 Comment By John Cowan On June 27, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

The business about how LGBT people can “hide themselves” is particularly offensive. Jewish people can also “hide themselves”, but in this country we don’t tolerate discrimination based on religion any more either.

#15 Comment By JaredMithrandir On June 28, 2015 @ 5:09 am

Libertarians should oppose all Legal Marriage and want ti all legal. Allowing it for some but not others is inherently unLibertarian no matter what twisted logic you use.

Right now the existence of Legal Marriage has not yet prevented people who don’t want to do it from opting out of it.

#16 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 2, 2015 @ 4:32 pm

Justin’s article wasn’t so bad, though I’ve my quibbles. But most of the responses really are borderline over the top. I guess reflective of how the society is taking leave of its senses, in many more ways than one.

#17 Comment By Mari R On May 23, 2018 @ 1:42 am

Interesting article and good responses.
One glaring omission, however: many conservatives oppose both gay marriage and gay rights because they see these movements as thinly disguised efforts to garner public acceptance and thereby reduce public mistrust of gay people, with the goal of being able to gain easier access to young boys for purposes of sexual exploitation.
My late father, a conservative attorney in San Francisco, told me that two fellow attorneys confided in him that their gay activist clients openly discussed this goal with their attorneys (civil, not criminal), scoffing at how naive the general population and news media was as to the gay rights and gay marriage movements’ hidden goals of gaining public trust and access to exploitable boys.
At first, I was shocked and didn’t know whether to accept what my fad told me. But I had never known him to lie– to me, or anyone else. His detailed descriptions rang true and made sense, logically. And I knew he knew those attorneys.
I’m not saying that gays and lesbians don’t get targeted by discrimination and abuse.
But when it comes to enacting powerful symbols of public approval like gay marriage, given this ominous undercurrent and hidden goal, we need to be skeptical and extremely careful– in this day and age of #MeToo.