The Gay Marriage Debate: Both Sides Are Missing the Point

Photo: James Harris[/caption]

The battle raging between proponents of gay marriage and those in opposition to it have missed the mark entirely. This is not to dismiss the concerns of either side, but rather to illustrate that both are missing the forest for the trees.

The issue being discussed should not be one of determining whose views win out and which politicians get to decide, but why politicians are given such power in the first place. While countless Americans stormed into Chic-fil-A restaurants this week to demonstrate their support for Dan Cathy’s First Amendment rights (and certainly some because they also disagree with the concept of gay marriage), many across the country have taken it upon themselves to boycott the company for similar reasons. By doing so, millions of Americans on both sides of the debate have unwittingly exhibited the greatest evidence that there should be no debate at all in terms of public policy: the operation of the market of ideas.

It is no coincidence that individuals living in Vermont or California tend to have very different cultural and political views than that of those living in Texas or South Carolina. This is not due to any policies being instituted by governments, but due to individuals making conscious decisions about their preferences and values in everyday life. Without any involvement of the state, millions of people are sorted across the country and around the world according to their culture and ideals.

Similarly, just as no government agency or statute was created to sort between citizens of different states or those who agreed with Dan Cathy’s statements and those whose sentiments differed from his, there is likewise no need for any state involvement with the issue of marriage. The only reason this debate is occurring in the first place is due precisely to government involvement and the difficulties and complications that arise from legal issues concerning same-sex couples.

Consider that some people hate living in large cities while others would despise living in rural towns. Now imagine if I told you I was going to have a debate with your neighbors on whether or not you should be allowed to live on a farm. If you rejected my authority to determine this, I would simply say that perhaps I can’t, but your neighbors and I can elect a “representative” to determine this for you. You’d look at me as if I’d lost my mind, and rightfully so. As ridiculous as that assertion sounds, it’s no less absurd than the marriage controversy being encouraged by the media and politicians.

Despite the vitriol filling the airwaves and the illusion of a substantive discussion, the cause of the problem isn’t addressed at all. Government intervention into the private lives of individuals is the source of the dispute, it certainly isn’t the remedy. As former Libertarian Party presidential candidate, Harry Browne once said, “Government is good at one thing: It knows how to break your legs, hand you a crutch, and say, ‘’See, if it weren’t for the government, you wouldn’t be able to walk.'”

Marriage has historically been a religious function and as the United States has always possessed a strong Christian culture, it should come as no surprise that many find fault with the concept of governments imposing laws that mandate observance of same-sex couples as being married. However, due to the legal implications of being recognized as a married couple, proponents of gay marriage have a valid concern as well. But why do such quarrels not arise on other issues such as attending church services?

There’s no question that many who oppose gay marriage do so on religious grounds and that those who support homosexuals having the right to marry do not share the first group’s religious fundamentalism. Why are there no demands from pundits or politicians that people must either be forced to attend church services regularly or it must be banned altogether? Obviously this is because such notions would be fervently rejected by both church goers and non-church goers alike.

What is often overlooked when such clashes hit the national scene is that personal values and beliefs are handled effectively on a daily basis among hundreds of millions of people without any need for public policy being involved. Individuals have the right to voluntarily enter into contracts at any point with anyone and call it whatever they choose. Just as my neighbor has the right to form an implicit contract and take part in an exchange with Chic- fil-A (or to refuse to), individuals also have the right to form partnerships and share their lives together.

If the coercion of the state is removed from the situation then individuals, communities, and churches are given the freedom to determine their own values and way of life without infringing the rights of others who may disagree. Naturally, without a government mandate to ban or observe same-sex marriages, businesses, communities and individuals would have the freedom to refuse to observe these contracts; just as some restaurants refuse to accept coupons from other establishments while their competitors choose otherwise. Likewise, individuals, communities, and businesses would have the freedom to not associate with establishments or groups that hold views they find offensive and thus depriving them of goods and services and potentially rewarding relationships.

Isn’t it amazing that we’re confident in our ability to choose what communities we live in and what businesses best satisfy our demands, yet seem convinced that such matters as personal and vital to our lives as our most intimate relationships must be legally decreed, guarded, and forced on others by the state? But if the privileges and prejudices imposed upon us by government mandates regarding marriage are lifted, the problem solves itself as individuals are given the freedom and opportunity to evaluate how best to address the issue.

Topics such as gay marriage, drug legalization, abortion, and prostitution tend to be discussed with such ferocity by policy makers and commentators because they further their careers and perpetuate the insistence that our private lives should be subject to the dictates of public policy. Neither side of the marriage debate will find any solace by further enlisting governments to be dictators, but will only succeed in expanding divisiveness and contempt for one another at the expense of the very values they cherish. Each side claims to be fighting what they view as a form of intolerance; so long as they advocate for their own view to be forced on everyone else by the state, both are right.