Saturday, October 18, 2008

Open letter to the few Libertarians not yet opposing Prop 8

The other day, I received an email from the head of a fairly well-known libertarian think-tank suggesting that the Libertarian Party of California was incorrect when it unanimously endorsed a vote of No on Proposition 8. Below is this person's email, with any identifying information redacted, and my response follows.

Dear Rob,

Why are you and the LPC supporting state government mandates for marriage? Isn't the libertarian position to privatize marriage and remove the government from any involvement?

Here are some articles in this regard:

[links to four articles on the organization's website]

Pleas for equal treatment by state government officials have nothing to do with the freedom to contract when the state determines the terms involved.

Best regards,


My response:

Dear __________,

We're opposing the redistribution of wealth that occurs when the state gives one subset of people (straight couples) benefits from taxes paid equally by both gay and straight taxpayers. If Prop 8 were about removing taxpayer-funded privileges from ALL married couples, both gay and straight, we of course would support it. But that's not what Prop 8 does. Rather, it seeks to use the force of government to take from one group and give to another, which is why we're opposing it.

Why would you and [your organization] be supporting government discrimination against same-sex couples? Isn't it the libertarian position that using government force to redistribute wealth from one group of people to another is wrong?

Regarding the assertion that there is such a thing as a private contract that offers the same protections to a couple that a marriage certificate does, I will simply ask that you do some more research on the topic before coming to such conclusions. There is no such thing as a private contract that allows one to not testify against one's "civil partner" in court, while spouses with a marriage certificate are immune from testifying against each other. This is just one of the hundreds of spousal rights, protections, and benefits that Proposition 8 would take away from same-sex couples. And even for the protections that can actually be accomplished via private contract, the redistribution of wealth continues in that such contracts cost thousands of dollars and weeks or months of red tape and paperwork to have them drawn up, while a marriage certificate costs an average of $70 and at most an hour of time. I'm told by my attorney friends that marriage is what as known as a "bright line rule" in legal terms, where one single piece of paper is able to convey huge amounts of legal significance that even thousands of pages of private civil contracts cannot convey fully. So, gay people have to wonder why some libertarians and libertarian think tanks were absolutely silent about government marriage certificates for many decades, and only became interested in the issue recently. All of the articles you mentioned are from after the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling.

I do not disagree with any of the articles you cited. We should get government out of marriage. But nobody in your organization, nor anywhere else, said anything about this until same-sex couples sought equal access. That's not a coincidence we can ignore. It smacks of bigotry, blatant and ugly, no matter how many libertarian arguments are used to whitewash the issue. The thankfully few libertarians who don't oppose Prop 8 thought that government marriage was just fine, or at least a very low priority, right up until it looked like gays might be included. Then, it was suddenly something that we absolutely must get the government out of, before dealing with illegal wiretapping, illegal wars, trillion dollar bailouts for political cronies, etc. But only for gays, of course. They don't want to do anything too hasty about opposite-sex marriages, because that would be too drastic, too extreme. As someone under the age of 40, I represent my age cohort well when I say that the first word I think of when I hear that argument is, "Whatever." (Okay, the first word actually starts with a B, but I'm trying to be civil.) No, this has nothing to do with constraining government, but rather it's solely because these few libertarians don't like gay people, not because they truly have a problem with government marriage. And here's why I know I'm right about this.

Consider that the year is not 2008, with the debate being whether to allow gays into the government marriage system, but rather 1948, with the debate being whether to allow blacks into the government school system. I'm sure that you oppose government meddling in education, just as I do. But would you ever even consider supporting a Constitutional amendment that would exclude black children from government schools, using your same rationale that "pleas for equal treatment by state government officials" have nothing to do with the freedom to educate one's own children "when the state determines the terms involved"? Of course not. The reason is that you, like most libertarians, know that if there's anything worse than the growth of government, it's the use of government to redistribute benefits from a disfavored group to a favored group. It's precisely what Reagan (quoting Tytler, though the quote is still unverified) warned us about in 1965 when campaigning for Goldwater:

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on the majority, he said, always vote for the candidate promising the most benefits from the treasury with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship."

Unfortunately, because many libertarians have spent the past few decades in much too close contact with social conservatives in the Republican Party, thanks to Reagan giving us such wise quotes (despite actions once elected that were far less wise), there appears to be a blind spot in a minority of libertarians that doesn't allow them to consider gay civil rights in the same way that they consider black civil rights. So, even if you cannot yourself equate the 2008 marriage debate to the 1948 school segregation debate, you need to ask yourself if future generations will look kindly on yourself and your organization after choosing the wrong side in today's civil rights debate. Remember that it was also Reagan who refused to allow gay teachers to be banned when he was Governor. We libertarians don't believe that there is such a
thing as a "right to a job," much less to a government job. Yet Reagan knew that, when taxpayer dollars are involved, discrimination is wrong -- even discrimination against gay people.

Allowing black children into government schools did not halt our efforts to get government out of the education business. We're still working very hard on that issue, and making progress, too. And allowing same-sex couples into government marriage contracts will not halt our efforts to get government out of the marriage business. It will instead only ensure that while we struggle to minimize government, the government that remains will not be redistributing benefits from one group to
another. Because redistribution of wealth is not at all libertarian.

Best regards,

Now, it's not my desire to threaten the funding of any libertarian organization. That's why I redacted the identifying information in the letters above. However, if the author of the first letter wishes to step forward and "out" themselves publicly as a Prop 8 supporter, I can guarantee that they will lose several large donors to their organization. Libertarians in California recognize the blatant bigotry in Prop 8, since it picks out one group of people for discriminatory treatment. Prop 8 has absolutely nothing to do with the Libertarian ideal of getting the government out of the marriage business altogether, because it actually strengthens the government's involvement in specifying what is a valid marriage and what is not.

At this point, just a couple of weeks before the election, I've given up on trying to reason with people who claim to be the most rational and logical thinkers around. Their own personal biases on this issue make them impervious to reasoning. So, enough of the carrot -- it's time for the stick. To all so-called "libertarian" organizations who still make excuses for Prop 8: stop it now, or face future consequences. Even if we're able to defeat Prop 8 this year, those of us who it would have affected will not just forget the betrayal by this small minority of libertarians and libertarian organizations. When such people and groups appeal to us in the future for funds and support, we will remind everyone of their extremely un-libertarian and bigoted position on Prop 8 in 2008. It's unfortunate that we have to make this promise, but given that social conservatives seem to have infiltrated some of our libertarian organizations, this purge of the social conservatives is the only way to preserve the cause of Liberty and ensure that future debates aren't polluted with bigoted socially conservative arguments wrapped in a thin veil of libertarian rhetoric.