Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why Marriage Matters and Why Moral Libertarianism is a Recipe for Political and Practical Failure

For those reading this blog as we have occasionally dealt with the issue of gay marriage, etc. in this year's session, you may have come to the conclusion that our "Premier blog of conservative and Republican politics and ideas" is a libertarian shell devoid of any positive acknowledgement of the traditionalists who are so vital to our conservative cause.

If so, let me, in the paragraphs that follow, destroy that notion. Let me also rebut the political advice of my friend Mr. Griffiths, who does not believe that our movement is served by the determined and principled defense of traditional marriage or, I expect, most other cultural issues emanating from what he politely dismisses as our "moral or religious objections".

The determined opposition by conservatives to the most radical gay marriage bill ever seriously considered by the General Assembly is, despite my erstwhile colleague's admonition to the contrary, both good policy and good politics.

Let us keep in mind, the purpose of this bill is not to provide homosexual couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples, something that could be accomplished by an alternative civil union. Its clear and unambiguous purpose is to redefine the institution of marriage in Maryland and make homosexuality the moral equivalent of heterosexuality. It is not in the eyes of the law alone that the "gay rights" movement has been pushing for such recognition. Their revolution has been ongoing for years in not only every statehouse but every classroom, courtroom, house of worship and in every institution from the American Psychiatric Association to the Boy Scouts. The end of this movement is not the tolerance of homosexuality, that already exists. It is the moral recognition and compelled acceptance of the lifestyle. A fact evidenced by the need to disingenuously title this bill the "Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Act". The sponsors of this legislation were forced to amend their proposal obstensibly to prevent clergy from being forced to perform marriages which have never been legal in Maryland's nearly 400 year existence. But these protections are inadequate and are not designed to prevent the irreversible damage which will be done to a great many institutions caused by the passage of this bill.

Given the radical nature of this proposal, all Republican members of the General Assembly should oppose it with all of their energies, including an attempt at filibuster. Conservatives must remember those who were complicit in allowing the institution of marriage to be redefined and the fundamental building block of our civil society to be not only further eroded but perhaps irretrievably broken. They should not allow those who claim to be against the proposal to vote for cloture only to later vote against the bill. This is an old trick and a shameful one.

The fallout from the passage of this bill will not be the glorious explosion of freedom and civil rights asserted by its supporters. Nor will it be the benign alteration of an anachronistic and individual arrangement that those, like my well-meaning friend Mr. Griffiths, believe it will be.

Look at any part of this country where the traditional family is weakest, where you have the fewest number of children raised by a mother and a father who are married to each other. Those communities are the least prosperous, the least safe and the least free. It isn't that gay marriage will in and of itself destroy communities. It is that the degradation of traditional marriage and the traditional family unit has undeniably resulted the destruction of a great many communities and the perpetuation of this societal trend cannot honestly be expected to lead to a brighter future.

Failing to fight to defend the traditional institution of marriage is also bad politics. The passage of this legislation will spark a backlash and electrify morally conservative voters as no issue in Maryland ever has. The electoral casualties from this vote will not be Republicans who voted against the measure or who fought it tooth and nail but any member Republican or Democrat haling from anything short of the most culturally liberal of enclaves. Many a faux conservative Democrat will be exposed by allowing this measure to be voted upon. If this were not the case, the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly would not have avoided allowing such a bill to advance in the past and would not have convinced their most liberal members to hold off in hope, ultimately forlorn, that the courts would take them "off the hook." These same leaders would not still oppose the bill being proposed.

Remember also that every state where there has been a direct vote to allow gay marriage traditional marriage has prevailed, even in liberal strongholds like California. There is no evidence that popular sentiment on this issue is so vastly different in Maryland that Republicans and conservatives should not see this debate as anything other than a political opportunity.

But Brian's sentiments are not unique within our movement. The alternative guiding political philosophy favored by my friend, which seeks to demur to the culturally radical elements of our liberal opponents is what I will describe and term "Moral Libertarianism". As Brian analyzes it

"1.Young voters don't buy into it. In my position on the Executive Board of the Maryland Young Republicans I speak often with voters who are fiscally conservative, but do not buy into the idea of using the apparatus of the state to deny individual liberties to anybody, especially when two consenting adults who aren't hurting anybody else are involved.

2.The Tea Party. Guess what? A lot of tea partiers are libertarian leaners who don't believe that the apparatus of the state should be used to punish individuals, either. Tea Partiers are folks who believe in less government and personal responsibility, and that is their ideological lodestar. Opposition to gay marriage oft-times runs opposite of that. "

Brian is an unapologetic advocate of a secular, libertarian strain of conservatism. The Moral Libertarian sees talk of "moral issues" as a barrier to growing the conservative movement. After all, young people"don't buy it". By this rationale, the culture wars of today, including gay marriage, will be a quaint historical relic of the past in another 20 or so years as the Hegelian wheel of history advances a new generation not interested in such trivialities.

While it is easy to see why a political philosophy that opposes any moral restriction, that says you can do what you want with whomever you want, smoke what you want and generally opposing anything that may harsh one's mellow would be popular in a late night dorm room discussion, it isn't much of a basis to form a society. Legalizing drugs, prostitution, promoting abortion on demand, elimination any sexual prohibition including even the eradication of marriage itself may seem radically liberating but it ain't a world most people would want to live in let alone try to raise children. And let's face it, that is a major focus of the lives of most adults and they really are not interested in voting for people who are antithetically opposed to making that job a little easier.

The founders of this country believed in limited government with defined constitutional powers and checks and balances to prevent the accumulation of power. They also recognized, as Adams put it,

"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." --October 11, 1798

Moral Libertarianism ignores this admonition. It is a recipe for Political and Practical Failure.


Chester Peake said...

Appreciate my buddy Brian, but have to go with Greg on this one.

More important than even the bills...

If it is true that young people are not concerned about such issues, then we may have already lost the battle, if not the war.

Somebody failed their duty to pass such things on to the next generation. That "Somebody" may well be us. Such a shame.

James said...

A misguided view. 20 years from now, we will wonder why gay marriage was ever considered controversial.

J. Scott Caldwell

Greg Kline said...

Mr. Caldwell,

Your comment epitomizes the moral libertarian view I outlined. But DOMA was passed nearly twenty years ago and we have more states that have consititutions outlawing gay marriage than those who allow it.

So I expect 20 years from now we will still be debating this issue just like we were twenty years ago.

streiff said...

I am totally with Greg on this. Just to be clear Libertarianism is not conservatism. In fact, in most of its forms it is in direct conflict the Reagan "three legged stool" of conservatism and it is definitely in conflict with this nation's political heritage which includes blue laws, Sunday store closings, the temperance movement, etc.

jsmdlawyer said...

Look at any part of this country where the traditional family is weakest, where you have the fewest number of children raised by a mother and a father who are married to each other. Those communities are the least prosperous, the least safe and the least free.

Um, no, actually.

Divorce rates by state:

DC, MA, IA and CT are among five lowest divorce rate states. All have same sex marriage.

Highest divorce rate states:

Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, West Virginia and Idaho.

No further comment should be necessary.

You want to talk "prosperity"?

DC, CT and MA in top five income per capita. Lowest five? Oklahoma, Montana, Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi.

Most below the poverty line?

Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, DC, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, Alabama, and South Carolina

Other than DC and NM, a veritable who's who of red states.

Fewest below the poverty line?

Delaware, Iowa, Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland, New Jersey, Minnesota, Alaska, Connecticut, and New Hampshire

Other than AL and VA, an all-star lineup of solid blue states, including all five same sex marriage states (six if MD follows through, plus New Jersey provides for civil unions).

Let's move on to "safe"? State crime rate statistics show that the five same sex marriage states rank 1, 2, 10, 16 and 21 in lowest crime rate. The highest five crime rates belong to Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, New Mexico and Nevada.

Of course, you can believe what you want to believe, but the statistics simply don't back you up. Same sex marriage states, compared to other states:

-- have fewer divorces, not more;
-- are more prosperous, not poorer;
-- are safer, not more at risk.

Mark Newgent said...

I tend to agree with Reagan when he said "If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism"

While, I think government has no business telling consenting adults who they can marry. I respect the moral argument Greg and streiff made. The wisdom of the ancients make for powerful arguments, therefore I concede I very well may be wrong.

John J. Walters said...

A tip of the cap to Chester Peake for being willing to admit that if we truly think this moral issue is so important than we should have been passing it along to our children instead of hiding behind the long arm of the law...

If the main issue here is protecting the sanctity of marriage and promoting wholesome families, then we really should be doing something about all the money we hand out to poor folks who raise children in broken homes.

Currently, I live in what I affectionately refer to as "Section 8 Central" (I think we're the only people in our building whose rent isn't paid for by the government) and I have to say the amount of welfare money coming to selfish single parents who regularly neglect or beat their kids is disgusting.

The idea that two people who love each other enough to want to get married (and happen to be gay) is less moral than handing money to these selfish people who couldn't bother to use protection is ludicrous to me. We're hiding behind the moral shade on this one because it's a last resort.

The family unit is already being eroded in America -- and it's not definitely not the fault of the homosexual community. It's our willingness to condone selfish, unproductive lifestyles with welfare payments and other aid programs that basically say, "Hey, you're doing alright just the way you are -- no job, no partner, and no education."

If we really wanted to focus on the family and the morals of our society we'd focus these efforts on teaching proper family values and reinforcing them via our government. We wouldn't be scapegoating a community of people that, like any other minority, are really not any different once you get to know them.

streiff said...

Fine Mark, but that is the Ron Paul version of the quote. The full quote includes:

Now, I can’t say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. I believe there are legitimate government functions. There is a legitimate need in an orderly society for some government to maintain freedom or we will have tyranny by individuals. The strongest man on the block will run the neighborhood. We have government to insure that we don’t each one of us have to carry a club to defend ourselves. But again, I stand on my statement that I think that libertarianism and conservatism are travelling the same path.

And this is what we're talking about. Maintaining a historical and legitimate function of government.

streiff said...

and gay marriage doesn't fall in the same category?

The family unit is already being eroded in America -- and it's not definitely not the fault of the homosexual community. It's our willingness to condone selfish, unproductive lifestyles with welfare payments and other aid programs that basically say, "Hey, you're doing alright just the way you are -- no job, no partner, and no education."

This is a silly argument. It is like saying, Well we have laws against murder but they aren't working so let's forget about it. Of course, if you remove social opprobrium and have popular media extol the virtues of single parenthood all the while establishing financial incentives marriage, as an institution, will be damaged. But it has been damaged not because it was flawed but because society set out to devalue it. You can't use the outcome of 50 years of effort in this regard as an indictment of the institution.

Greg Kline said...


Feel free to criticize me but at least compare it what I said. I said communities where children are not raised by their married parents. Divorce rates by state is apples and oranges but it is interesting that DC fits into both categories.

Is your point that marriage is a useless insitution? Is it that a man and woman being married and raising their children is an anachronistic arrangment with little benefit to society?

If so, say so.

Bruce said...

I won't speak to whether it's good politics for the GOP to oppose SB 116; any comments from the likes of me would be disingenuous as I am both a Democrat and a social liberal/libertarian on this issue.

I would respectfully - emphasis on the adverb - disagree with my colleague in the Bar Greg Kline on the purpose of the statute. The purpose of the statute is to effectuate equal protection of the laws for same-sex couples to marry, not to redefine morals generally. Because of DOMA, using any noun other than "marriage" results in a second-tier marital structure and this proposed statute's purpose is to keep that from happening.

The emphasis in the statute's amendment confirming that religious institutions need not perform same-sex marriages is a remarkable sop to an already over-privileged caste, namely clergy, who and whose employers receive remarkable tax benefits while consuming public resources. In this state, clergy may apply to become state agents, i.e. officiators of marriage license ceremonies, and most do exercise that privilege. (In some religious communities without ordained clergy, such as the Bahais, the Quakers and arguably the Latter-Day Saints, alternative procedures are used.)

No force under American law can make Greg Kline's pastor marry two men, or the Orthodox rabbis near me marry a Buddhist and a Hindu, or a Catholic priest marry a divorced woman to a divorced man; the state cannot make a priest say an Our Father or a rabbi put on tefillin either. At most, the state could (but of course certainly won't) revoke any of these clerics' state agent privileges as a punishment for failing to marry any walk-in "customers", in the same way that the Clerk of Court needs to accept any business license application that is filled out and has a check attached. But Marylanders are just not interested in forcing a rabbi to marry two Gentiles, or two men, to each other, even under merely the pain of revoking his privileges to sign marriage licenses, unless I am grossly mistaken.

The only purpose of the amendment is to confirm that no penalty against special clergy privileges for marriage license execution (as opposed to the religious, private aspects of weddings, which are absolutely 1st Amendment protected) will follow from a refusal to perform a same sex marriage. Clergy are a nervous, privileged and jealous lot, sometimes - something like medieval barons, which at a time they also were in much of Europe.

Best to all.

Mark Newgent said...


Yes I know the rest of the quote, hence why I fully admit I may be wrong.

John J. Walters said...

@ streiff -- You might as well admit you have no leg to stand on if you must resort to comparing gay marriage to murder. When you equate something small and paltry to something that is universally agreed-upon as wrong, you are grasping at straws.

Clearly I was in no way suggesting that the family structure doesn't matter -- I was saying that it obviously does, and any attempts to help establish a functional family structure in a community that does exist, whether you like it or not, should be encouraged much more than our permissive generosity in the welfare department.

As Bruce said, this isn't about endorsing anything or forcing anyone to do anything -- it's about affording people equal rights -- people like you and me who just happen to watch a different kind of adult entertainment.

streiff said...

I admit no such thing. All you do is take 6K years of human history and junk if for a familial arrangement that has never existed in even the most corrupt and dissolute societies.

Marriage is not a right. Never has been. That's why you can't marry your mother or sister. Arguing if from a human rights standpoint when even the UN Charter on Human Rights recognizes marriage as existing between a man and a woman simply shows the silliness you're try to inflict on society for no greater purpose than your own amusement.

Kevin Waterman said...


I can't imagine you think so little of Marriage that you'd consciously be willing to equate a truly venerable and vital institution like it with a piece of government paper agreeing to recognize two people as one for certain tax and property ownership purposes?

True, real Marriage matters and should be treated like it does, but what the government calls marriage is no more Marriage than a jar of peanut butter would be a PB&J sandwich if the government called it one.

streiff said...

I really can't account for you lack of knowledge of the institution of marriage. Your premise is just simply nonsense if one treats it in the most charitable light.

I find it stunning that you assume away child custody, property right, inheritance, etc. etc. a having no value because somehow they are enforced by the government based on the government's recognition of marriage.

I'm finished on this. I really don't have the time to waste with people who are simply arguing to gain approval of people who are attempting to thrash conservatism, which is exactly what gay marriage is about.

Kevin Waterman said...

I'm not assuming them away as not having value, I'm pointing out what government marriage covers has no necessary connection to the institution of Marriage.

Every single one of the items you pointed out are products of the political system and fall under the contract status that is what government has misleadingly named marriage.

And as I have pointed out, since those things have no necessary connection to Marriage, it is wholly inappropriate for a proponent of limited government to support limiting access to them on an arbitrary basis.

But hey, if you think all that matters with Marriage is government recognition and access to the rights and privileges that come with it, power to you.

streiff said...

simply an idiotic comment. Kevin, you are smarter than this libertarian Ron Paul bullcrap.

Every single thing you say here is false in every particular.

Find another site to haunt.