Symbolism And Neutrality

Jon Rowe argues against both me and Robert P. George in favor of a libertarian position in which no-one gets married but civil unions are available for all. I sure understand the theoretical reasoning for this, but I have two objections.

The first is simply that there are some minimal tangible social goods associated with marriage that I believe would be enormously beneficial for gays and straights: the institution encourages stability and ABBEYDavidMcNew:Getty commitment in an emotional and sexual world which often pulls us away from that. It encourages shared sacrifice; it instills the disciplines of shared living; it promotes thrift; it integrates gay people into their own families and society; it harms no-one. In that sense I'm a weak libertarian, believing in a minimal state that can nonetheless encourage core shared values and social goods and treats the equal inclusion of minorities as something worth sacrificing for. That's the social conservative side of marriage equality - and the evolution of gay culture even in the past decade shows how that could occur, especially as the first generation of gay kids grows up knowing in advance that marriage is an option.

In fact, a great deal of this symbolism has to do with gay kids more than adults. If you are part of a family and your society tells you at an early age that you can have no family, no spouse and no integration into the world alongside your brothers and sisters in the future as an adult, that's a brutal psychic wound that leads to all sorts of subsequent problems and pathologies. I'd rather help mitigate that for the sake of some desperate young people, often isolated and alone and give them a chance for a solid future, with their families and communities as they have grown up in them. That's why I'm not a full-bore libertarian. And that's why marriage equality remains as much a conservative cause as a liberal one.

Secondly, Jon's solution is simply quixotic to me:

On disputed issues of “the good” that fall outside of governments minimal purview of enforcing our rights to life, political liberty and property, government should just stay out of it and leave issues up to individuals and private groups. That means privatize marriage, everyone gets that two person civil union for which The Witherspoon Institute argues and individuals and private groups, not government decides what is “marriage” just as they decide what is true “religion.”

I take the point theoretically. But does Jon faintly believe that this country will ever vote or courts will ever rule that an institution already judged profound and unalienable by the Supreme Court will be abolished? That's pure fantasy. The actual lives of gay people and their families, meanwhile, are not fantasy. And Robert George's arguments reflect little but medieval science, one version of theological control of politics (many religious people now embrace gay equality), and, more importantly, second-class status for gay couples. His civil unions for any two persons, straight or gay, who cannot marry - do not and would not carry the full rights of marriage. And they equate the lifetime emotional commitment of a gay couple to temporary friendships, contracts of domestic convenience, financial deals, or other extraneous couplings. What George is doing is removing gay people from family life, or only allowing them to function within it as aliens and outsiders.