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Make It Go Away!

I'm sorry if you've had enough of the gay marriage talk from me, but there's just so much to say (after even more head shaking). On the anti-gay-marriage side, people are looking for ways to discuss the point with those who reject religious arguments out of hand. On the pro-gay-marriage side, there are folks proving (check the comments) that they are just as willing to reject non-faith-based arguments out of hand (i.e., on faith), although they'll pretend to be interested in hearing them.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle are people like John Cole (who has been rapidly moving up my list of to-read blogs), who seem just to turn the issue off:

I officially refuse to become mired in the gay marriage debate because I simply do not care what consenting adults do in the bedroom. Unless it is my bedroom, thank you very much.

Let me say this one more time (with feeling): Marriage is not exclusively, or even primarily, a bedroom relationship. In fact, that the gay marriage initiative seems to encourage this thinking strikes me as prima facie evidence that it is already serving to diminish the institution.

Yet, folks with strong libertarian streaks seem to wish the whole thing merely to go away. Perhaps it hits too close to a huge weak spot of libertarianism: that government cannot be defined without reference to morality, whichever way that morality goes, and that the society to be governed has a right to influence that definition.

I don't believe that this applies to John, but it seems to me that, for a great number of these people, their libertarian streaks are an echo of the liberal call for tolerance uber alles. They are emotionally disposed to recoil from strongly made moral statements, so they are loathe to explore whether those statements have an intellectual basis. Everything in their reaction points to an emotional justification for pushing the issue away so that they don't have to reconcile what they say with the likely real-world results of their advised policies.

For example, if opposition to gay marriage is purely opposition to what is done in the bedroom, and if one rejects that as a criterion, then what is done in the bedroom could be nothing. That is, marriage could be between anybody and any number of people. Whether or not they find this possibility objectionable, it may push the libertarian sorts to seek to end the conversation there by declaring that the government has no role in marriage (an argument that I once flirted with). This, in turn, moves to the heart of what government is, should be, and cannot help but be.

Once again, however, it is much easier simply to declare the thing a "non-issue" and ignore any and all repercussions. That's a very disappointing attitude to find among people whose opinion one respects.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:36 PM EST


Some interesting repurcussions of getting the government out of recognizing relationships are inheritnance and liability laws. If the government does not recognize "marriage," how will it dispose of estates with no wills or children (easy, it all goes to the state). And if their is no such thing as a spouse to the government, how could you be liable to someone for running over one?

c matt @ 11/21/2003 02:17 PM EST

C Matt,

Yes, this whole issue has, historically speaking, come on us so quickly that I don't think people are considering just how integral marriage is to our society. Unfortunately, the issues that you cite are being used to promote gay marriage.

As for those who suggest that the government get out of the marriage business, I think they'd also probably prefer that the government get out of the estate business, too.

Justin Katz @ 11/24/2003 12:51 PM EST