The Gay Marriage Debate

Why the state should stay out

Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. Most so-called liberals are happy about that. Most conservatives are not. As a libertarian, I think all consenting adults who want to commit to a life partner ought to be treated the same way.

To air this issue on my Fox Business show, I invited Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage and David Harsanyi, libertarian columnist at The Blaze.

Brown says gay marriage threatens marriage between a man and a woman. I asked him to explain.

"Marriage is a public good," he said. "When you redefine marriage, you redefine it for everyone. In states that have redefined marriage, we've seen serious consequences, ranging from what is taught in schools—kids in first grade in Massachusetts are taught that it's the same thing to grow up and marry a boy or a girl—to what happens to religious organizations or organizations that just believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman. ... You see Catholic Charities' adoption agency essentially being forced out of being able to adopt kids because the state said it is discriminating."

Whoa. Those are three separate points. I don't see a problem with the first: If they redefine marriage to include gays, that doesn't diminish my marriage. And if kids are taught that gay marriage is OK, so what?

"They're being told that their parents' views are essentially bigotry," said Brown.

It's another reason we should have school choice.

On his third point, if a state tells Catholic Charities they may not honor their beliefs and limit adoptions to straight couples, that's a problem of Big Government, not gay marriage.

Harsanyi says he has a way around the whole fight.

"It is a mistake to allow government to define what marriage should be, gay or not. It should get out of the business of defining marriage at all and let people engage in ... a private relationship."

OK by me. Who needs the government's sanction anyway?

"When you're getting married, you are not thinking, 'Wow, the government has endorsed this relationship.' That is not very romantic."

I pointed out that marriage involves many legal issues, including alimony, child support, hospital visitation rights, inheritance, and adoption.

"Within five minutes of my idea coming to fruition, a whole industry would be formed with prefab legal documents that would just allow you to have the sort of relationship you want with the parameters you want legally," Harsanyi said.

You'd work it out as a private contract. Some hospitals would say we allow same-sex couples; others would say no.

"More than that, I would say in the contract that my spouse is allowed to visit me in the hospital."

Brown was unconvinced.    

"The state's interest in marriage is that this is the institution by which we create stable families where the kids can be connected to both their mother and their father. ... In states that have gone this direction, we see things like attempts to recognize three parents, because there is a biological father and two mothers."

Again, so what? I don't care if there are three fathers and six mothers. If it's a stable relationship and the kids are connected with their parents, that's great.

"Deconstructing marriage is a very bad idea," said Brown. "We see the rising rates of divorce and unwed motherhood. There is a direct correlation. If you look at any social indicators—children raised without mothers and fathers—you see higher rates of incarceration, juvenile delinquency that cost the state money."

Sorry, but I still don't see what divorce and unwed motherhood have to do with gay marriage. It's mostly straight people who are doing the divorcing and unwed mothering.

"All of that ... started long before anyone brought up gay marriage," Harsanyi said.

"The state should support what is true and good and beautiful," Brown countered. "And it's true and good and beautiful that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Men and women are unique and special."

I still don't get his argument.

And I definitely don't want the state to decide what is good and beautiful.

John Stossel is host of Stossel on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of Give Me a Break and of Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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