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‘Gay Marriage,’ Libertarians, and Civil Rights
Untangling several confusions.


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George Weigel

That usurpation is at the heart of the gay lobby’s emotional, cultural, and political success — the moral mantle of those Freedom Riders whose golden anniversary we mark this year has, so to speak, been successfully claimed by the Stonewall Democratic Club and its epigones. And because the classic civil-rights movement and its righteous demand for equality before the law remains one of the few agreed-upon moral touchstones in 21st-century American culture (another being the Holocaust as an icon of evil), to seize that mantle and wear it is to have won a large part of the battle — as one sees when trying to discuss these questions with otherwise sensible young people.

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But the analogy simply doesn’t work. Legally enforced segregation involved the same kind of coercive state power that the proponents of gay marriage now wish to deploy on behalf of their cause. Something natural and obvious — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” — was being denied by the state in its efforts to maintain segregated public facilities and to deny full citizenship rights to African Americans. Once the American people came to see that these arrangements, however hallowed by custom (and prejudice), were, in fact, unnatural and not obvious, the law was changed.

What the gay lobby proposes in the matter of marriage is precisely the opposite of this. Marriage, as both religious and secular thinkers have acknowledged for millennia, is a social institution that is older than the state and that precedes the state. The task of a just state is to recognize and support this older, prior social institution; it is not to attempt its redefinition. To do the latter involves indulging the totalitarian temptation that lurks within all modern states: the temptation to remanufacture reality. The American civil-rights movement was a call to recognize moral reality; the call for gay marriage is a call to reinvent reality to fit an agenda of personal willfulness. The gay-marriage movement is thus not the heir of the civil-rights movement; it is the heir of Bull Connor and others who tried to impose their false idea of moral reality on others by coercive state power.

A humane society will find ample room in the law for accommodating a variety of human relationships in matters of custodial care, hospital visiting rights, and inheritance. But there is nothing humane about the long march toward the dictatorship of relativism, nor will there be anything humane about the destination of that march, should it be reached. The viciousness visited upon Archbishop Dolan and other defenders of marriage rightly understood during the weeks before the vote in Albany is yet another testimony to the totalitarian impulse that lurks beneath the gay marriage movement.

One might have thought libertarians understood this. But evidently some do not.

— George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. 



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