I participate in political discussions at a handful of online communities, dedicated to economics, individual rights, and other libertarian concerns. Although I had hoped to stake in the heart my impulse to write further about gay marriage, it just keeps coming back to bug me.
The following is an interesting exchange I had with a gentleman about libertarians wasting their time on ideals rather than on practicalities. On reading his post, my hackles raised. I remembered a bit of wisdom from Stephen King in his book on writing where he says, if you get upset by a piece of criticism, it’s probably true.
But then I remembered Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian, one of the best mini-books I’ve ever read. In it, he says that the dissenter must always be prepared to be boring. Milton Friedman said that one man plus a correct opinion outvotes a majority. Together, their statements suggest that you cannot let the illusion of what is good substitute for what is even better, and you’d better be prepared to constantly defend that position. Even if you start to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher.
I have mildly modified the posts from their original only so that they make sense without the rest of the surrounding thread.
What [right-leaning libertarians] usually say is that government shouldn’t be in the business of handing out marriage licenses, which is a high-minded, principle way of stepping aside and letting all the anti-gay laws continue without challenge…
…Theories about how things ought to be are important but of limited usefulness. You have to deal practically with what actually is. What I was describing above is commonly known as a “cop out.”
Your stance on this issue is commonly known as “giving in.” “Limited usefulness” is precisely what a coercive state hopes that its dissenters’ positions will degrade to. Paine: A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.
It doesn’t really matter for how long or in honor of how many traditions the government has been involved in marriage, it (the feds and, by virtue of its own constitution, Rhode Island) has no constitutional authority to engage in these (and so many other) acts. Saying that it’s just the way things are is precisely the couch-potato thinking that prevents Americans from keeping their government(s) in check.
I’m a gay man and I’m adamantly opposed to queer activists relying solely on equal protection to keep up with the Joneses. It’s unprincipled. Oh, it’s “useful,” by your definition, because that’s the way things are, but it simply pits bad legal recourse against bad legislation.
You can think something wrong, but still deal in what is practically possible. I tried and tried, but finally realized the futility of trying to work with “idealist” Libertarians long ago.
I share that sense of futility every time I try to reconcile my small-government beliefs with Austro-anarchism. I don’t think I’m a neo-libertarian, but I think there’s a role for government, one that even involves degrees of regulation (gasp!). But when it comes to contracts and negative rights — all of which more than handily cover the aspects of public gay life Americans get so apoplectic about, I have to side with the ideal rather than the convoluted machinations and compromises of (often normative) practicality.