There Is No Libertarian Argument Against Gay Marriage


Let me be clear: libertarians have not always been the best when addressing the rights of gay people. While most libertarians are against a federal ban on gay marriage, many vote against gay marriage in their home states. This is done under the paper-thin veil of “states rights” (because we all know that territory drawn out in arbitrary borders can have rights). I would like to argue that anyone who calls themselves a libertarian and votes against gay marriage is a hypocrite. Libertarians, when abiding by libertarian philosophy, must support the right to associate.

I thought this was old news until I read Pocket Full of Liberty’s embarrassment of an article, “The Libertarian Case For Traditional Marriage.”  The guest author, Mike Gannon, runs through a litany of tired, neo-conservative arguments opposing gay marriage. When shuffling through the rambling defense, it becomes clear that Gannon sees himself as Gannon the God, the holy man who will deliver the magic pill that will cure society of government and social ills: legislating marriage.

Gannon is quick to point to dystopian literature as evidence for declining family values equating to a larger state (because, clearly, fiction is the best place to turn for empirical evidence against gay marriage). For example, he cites Brave New World, where the family “has been replaced entirely by casual sex and cloning vats.”

As someone who has actually read Brave New World, I know that casual sex in the novel was used as escapism from the cold, calculating world that Huxley had created. It was certainly not the root of that London’s problems. If Gannon hopes to use literature to back his claims, he should at least do so correctly.

Next, Gannon tries to enforce the “collective psyche.” You read that right—Gannon, the supposed libertarian, tries to collectivize all of Western society, and argue that we all “know” that the traditional family is what’s “natural.” He writes,

“As previously stated, there are many ways in which Man organizes himself in a free society, many grouping and associations into which he may enter. What defines his family, though, rests on our traditional understanding of marriage: one man and one woman coming together in a lifelong commitment out of which children may naturally arise.”

Okay, so “Man” (let’s try “people”—men consist of less than half of the world’s population) can organize himself into many groupings and associations, and they don’t all look alike. For example, there have been countless instances of matriarchal societies. Polyamory, including in the Old Testament, has a long and rich history. And, most damningly, there have been accepted homosexual relationships internationally, all the way back to ancient Egypt. The nuclear family that Gannon defends is largely a cherry-picked historical concept. Indeed, people in many different societies have chosen to associate in a variety of ways, to their heart’s content. There is no “natural” form of association—and, as a libertarian, Gannon should know better than to advocate state intervention to enforce his vision of a perfect society.

The true irony in Gannon’s piece is that he writes, “family remains as the last line of defense between the naked exercise of state power over the will of the individual.” He is trying to use traditional marriage as a way to fight the state… but he wants to use the state to enforce traditional marriage. If the state is defining what marriage is, then the individual loses his or her sovereignty to define it for his or herself. In defining marriage for everyone, Gannon is advocating for the state to grow.

Gannon believes that he knows what is natural and right for society, and he wants to enforce his ideas. This makes him no different than those throughout history who have used power to enforce their personal utopia. What Gannon needs is a humility check. He does not know what is best for each individual, gay or straight, what is best for the family, what is best for society, or what natural order even looks like. For him to claim that his argument is libertarian, he would have to address the knowledge problem, the right to associate, and the right for private institutions to marry gays if they wish. None of these issues arose in his article.

“The Libertarian Case for Traditional Marriage” is a piece that shames libertarianism as a whole. There is no libertarian argument against gay marriage; freedom cannot be enforced by coercion of the state. If Gannon regards himself as a libertarian, he should become more educated on the system he is propagating.

  • Kevin Boyd

    Well done Rachel!

    You are absolutely right in the sense that there is no libertarian argument for stopping people from associating and forming whatever type of relationship they want. The only libertarian disagreements on gay marriage is on the political approach of how to permit them.

  • Bill O’Keefe

    I completely agree. Cannons article was ridiculous.

  • Preston

    The libertarian argument is against government sponsored marriage…..period. Hetero or Homo, we should be dismantling government involvement in personal relationships, not expanding them.

    • While I agree that government should be completely removed from any sort of relationship, I think that we need to think more critically about the paradigm that we operate under today. Of course “marriage” would work more efficiently if it were just a personal choice (mixed with the religious/non-religious institution of preference), but because that ISN’T an option right now, it’s a cop-out to just say “government shouldn’t be involved in marriage” and then refuse to address the inequalities that we see today.

      • Roger

        It’s not necessarily a cop-out. It’s keeping the core problem in perspective. The alternative is to submit to the idea that government should be involved which only contributes to the self perpetuating bureaucracy.

      • Mojo

        Yo can’t have it all. You can’t eat your cake and have it at the same time. In one side of your mouth you say “”This is done under the paper-thin veil of “states rights” (because we all know that territory drawn out in arbitrary borders can have rights)”” and on the other you say “”” it’s a cop-out to just say “government shouldn’t be involved in marriage” and then refuse to address the inequalities””” . In one side you stupidly don’t know what states rights mean and dismiss it and in the others you acknowledge the role of governments forming marriages.

        First of all state rights doesn’t doesn’t mean territory, a piece of land have a say, it means that people who lives in each states have a right to decide what is marriage.

        Their is a right to be left alone but gays who are seeking same-sex marriages are not seeking to be left alone, they are seeking the opposite, they are seeking public recognition by joining an institution. People have every right to define that institution in a way that serve them better.

        By limiting marriage to members of opposite sex, no one is forcing the government on gays. Same sex relationships are not prohibited. If they claim that certain benefits are being denied from them, then go ahead and work hard to change the definition by democratic means (legislation or ballot initiative) not by butchering the Constitution by a false interpretation of the 14th amendment. Nothing expose the rotten claims of homosexuals other than their rejection of other titles to their relationships (like Civil-Unions or Domestic-Partnership) even though they promised the same benefits the state bestow to marriages. It’s all about imitating traditional normal families even in titles to protrude a false feeling of satisfaction.

    • Mojo

      The Government is not involving, people with their free will are seeking public recognition by marriage.

  • The problem is not that Gannon is arguing for traditional marriage. The problem is that Gannon wants to criminalize gay marriage. Also, Mrs. Burger, I want to note that when the Bible mentions polygamy it doesn’t necessarily condone it; the Bible probably allowed it for the same reason divorce was allowed: “Because their hearts were hard” (Matthew 19:8). Now, having said that, it is not necessarily a reason to ban such “marriage.”

    Also, you seem to take a slight dig at states’ rights. Advocates for states’ rights do NOT argue that states per se have rights, but that people of the states have the right to govern themselves as they choose. And states’ rights does not equal banning gay marriage.

    • Thanks for the response, Anand.

      Actually, my problem with Gannon’s piece is that he doesn’t support gay marriage. As I line out in this post, his rationalizations are not based in logic or have little more than circumstantial evidence, which, for me, is imperative to substantiate any claim.

      My issue with “states’ rights” is that it’s an excuse for bigotry on a local level. As I mentioned earlier in this post, it takes a lot of hubris to call yourself a libertarian and then not support the right to associate. “States rights” is a double edged sword; it neither inherently protects liberty nor assaults it. An assault on liberty is an assault on liberty, regardless of if it’s on the local, state, federal, or international level.

      • Libertarians who argue for states’ rights are in no way neglecting the dangers of state infringement on liberty and privacy. Also, the states are easier to deal with than a mass federal government that goes wrong.

        Also, one can be both pro-family and libertarian. How? Same way as Ron Paul. He is a traditional values guy and yet at the same time he is a radical libertarian who opposes forcing people to live by moral law. This is definitely NOT the case for the author of that article.

        Also, there are examples of radical libertarians who believe in states rights such as Stephan Kinsella and Thomas DiLorenzo.

        • For more info on states rights from a libertarian perspective, see here:

        • Naturally states are smaller and thus easier to deal with. That still doesn’t mean that it’s libertarian to vote against gay marriage on the local level. States rights were originally intended to “check” the federal government, but we see far less of that now.

          I have no problem with people being personally “pro-family” or “anti-gay marriage” or “pro-life” so long as they don’t coerce other people to live by their value system. That includes voting against gay marriage. As I wrote before, you can’t call yourself a libertarian and then use your vote to prevent people from freely associating, regardless of what level of government you’re talking about.

          • I am clearly not arguing that libertarians should vote against gay marriage at the local level. Also, most pro-family libertarians will NOT coerce you to live a pro-family life. And about the pro-life issue, pro-choice libertarian Murray Rothbard argued in his manifesto FOR A NEW LIBERTY that “if abortion is truly murder, then the Catholic — or any other person who shares this view — cannot just shrug his shoulders and say that “Catholic” views should not be imposed upon non-Catholics. Murder is not an expression of religious preference; no sect, in the name of “freedom of religion,” can or should get away with committing murder with the plea that its religion so commands. The vital question then becomes: Should abortion be considered as murder?”