The Locker Room

The Separation of Marriage and State

Posted by Dr. Roy Cordato at 1:26 PM

As a libertarian I have often found myself on the “liberal” side of gay rights issues, particularly when it comes to the repeal of discriminatory laws that restrict “peaceful acts between consenting adults.” In light of this, I have struggled with the issue of gay marriage, or more precisely, the issue of granting marriage licenses to gay couples. After all, isn’t this simply a peaceful act between consenting adults? Then I was watching the news the other day and I saw and interview with a gay couple about to apply for a marriage license in San Francisco. The sound bite was from one of the “spouses to be” who said “all we want is the right to make a commitment to each other and live the rest of our lives together.” My first thought was, “yeah, you should have that right.” But my second thought was “what’s stopping you?”

The next day I heard a second sound-bite from a member of another gay couple. His comment was, “we want the same recognition of our relationship from society that heterosexual couples have.” These two comments together made me realize that the correct libertarian position on granting marriage licenses to gay couples must be to oppose it.

Under libertarian theory, all people have a right to make peaceful contracts among themselves for whatever purposes they desire—a simple and basic freedom of association. The signers of the contract do not have a right to force that contract or its terms on others. Morally speaking a contract can only impose obligations on the consenting parties, i.e., the signatories. No relationship has a moral right to “recognition by others.” The only obligation imposed on society by the contract is that it needs to respect the right of the parties to make it, in other words the contract should be enforceable in society’s courts. None of this requires a license from the state. Unfortunately, the movement to grant marriage licenses to gay couples is not about the recognition of rights but about the imposition of obligations on employers, landlords, taxpayers, etc. Freedom of association implies the right not to associate. In this sense, the granting of marriage licenses to gay couples does not extend freedom of association but restricts it.

If one is going to support gay rights on freedom of association grounds, as I have in the past, then the only consistent position is to oppose the granting of marriage licenses for gay couples. Ultimately, as libertarians we should support the total separation of marriage and state. Marriage is about freedom of contract, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. No one should have to get permission from the government to get married. The fact that gay couples are willing to give up this otherwise enviable position shows the lure that the ability to legally use force against others has.

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