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Aug 27, 2004 1:16 am

A Libertarian Interpretation of Same Sex Benefits

NOTE: My campus is currently roiled by our Chancellor's refusal to extend various benefits to "domestic partners" (a euphemism for homosexual partners). By state law, he or the college board CANNOT extend the same benefits to homosexual couples as to married ones. Some libertarians defend this as an expansion of "liberty," but leaving aside the question as to whether the State should be involved in the first place (moot: it is), libertarian supporters of same-sex benefits are "useful idiots" to a crowd that does not normally respect libertarian contractual thinking. Here, in an open letter to the Chancellor and the campus newspaper, I defend his position on non-religious grounds. (He did get into deep doo-doo by answering a reporter's question that--yes, as a Christian, not as Chancellor, he believed homosexual activity--not 'orientation'-was 'sinful behavior,' noting that we are all sinners. That sent the emotional Gay Lesbian Transgender and Simply Confused crowd into a foam).

Any thoughts on this issue?


Dear Chancellor Wendler:

You are undoubtedly under a lot of "heat" right now for failing to do the politically correct thing and fall into line with other college presidents who are afraid of being called "homophobic." The legal status of "partner" is dubious at best. The entire same-sex argument (for marriage or benefits) falls apart because it is based on a libertarian contractual model (disclosure: I AM a libertarian conservative). This model is appropriate in many circumstances but not in this one.

First, the people proposing the same-sex model as an analogue to heterosexual marriage don't normally respect the model (if they did, our welfare state would be much smaller!).

Moreover, the contractual model need not limit itself to two people; polygamy certainly has a stronger historical, contemporary, and legal grounding than same-sex anything. It is practiced worldwide. This is not a hypothetical: Congress, drawing upon its constitutional powers to admit States into the Union, denied Utah entry until it repealed its polygamy laws. The people screaming loudly today might call this a violation of church/state separation, except they don't give a hoot for Mormons. In short, their beliefs are based on prejudice, not rational thought. Or, take a contemporary case: Muslims in Africa (and elsewhere) often are prevented from coming to the USA unless they divorce one of their 'excess' wives because that religion allows polygamy. (I've spoken with African Muslims who had to choose what to do because they wanted to come to the USA so badly). So, our immigration laws have a disparate impact ("discriminate") against people based on their religion.

SIUC's recent move to "add in" homosexual benefits by making them sign an affidavit testifying to their (monogamous?) relationship is well-intentioned. Yet, it occurred to me that this "progressive" policy leaves out heterosexual 'domestic partners' (cohabitators). Why can't they sign an affidavit, too? If we juxtaposed the last census figures of long-term heterosexual domestic partners and same-sex partners, the number of the former would be much larger than the latter (the most reliable statistics for sexual orientation were gathered by U. of Chicago researchers in the early 1990s). I know the counterargument: Cohabitators have the option of getting married but obviously this entails much more commitment, legal risk and responsibility, etc. than signing an affidavit. Moreover, there is an end-to-marriage document called a divorce decree that again involves much pain and cost. When does an affidavit end? If the couple splits, why give up benefits? There is an obvious incentive for underreporting. As I always say, don't tell me your good intentions, tell me the incentives you are creating....

The bottom line is this: The State (government) defines what type of people (man and woman, man and man, etc.) and how many people may be married. The State of Illinois has spoken. Illinois has defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This institution and others have given benefits to married people, as currently defined by the State. If those who object to your policy have a problem, they ought to take it up with their state legislators.


Jonathan Bean
Professor of History
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
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More Comments:

Roderick T. Long - 8/27/2004

See my response in the main section.

Jonathan J. Bean - 8/27/2004

There is a short and long-term POLITICAL problem here that libertarians, comfortable with theory, are wont to tackle.

In the long-term, we (even Horowitz intimates this), may want the State out of the "marriage business," but in the short-term we live in the real, nitty-gritty world of state-governed rules that tightly bind state institutions in particular (note to Horowitz: your point concerning the latitude of private firms is well-taken but I, and most professors/students, teach or attend State universities or colleges. Perhaps I should have made that clear).

I don't see how we achieve, or advance our libertarian state-less marriage goals by simply extending current state rules to gays, polygamists, or others. What is the point?

As for this being a "small number of people," it is difficult to tell, as the "movement" as only just begun (remember Medicare was supposed to be a "small" program). Once attached to State rules or court decisions defining "equal rights" to mean gay marriage or same-sex benefits (but not polygamy), the door will be open to affirmative action of all sorts. As a long student of that area of civil rights, I know that activists take a victory in one area and use our judicial oligarchs, or friendly bureaucrats to extend it in another.

Finally, Horowitz repeatedly states that marriage is a "desirable social institution." Perhaps this is so, though serial monogamy now seems to be the norm, and that institution has been under attack, or not as solid and "desirable" to those people who leave it (divorce) choose something else (cohabitate, remain single) or live "make-do" marriages. And, you skirt the issue of monogamy entirely: The classic argument is that monogamy makes for social stability (no unhappy mate-less males or females, as in polygamous societies). Another argument is that it is better to have two parents raise children; this is supported by social science research.

Interesting how everyone dodged the polygamy question. I searched a database of polls and found that polygamy is even less popular than same sex marriage (92% think it is morally wrong) even though major world religions (e.g., Islam) sanction it. A strong majority actually think a husband with more than one wife ought to be arrested but no one wants to enforce the sodomy statutes ("consenting adults" and all that). Love to see the gender breakdown of that poll!

Here is a strong argument for polygamy: It would help break down the temptation to "stray" into adultery (thus breaking the bonds of contractual marriage), protect the rights of religious groups to practice their "victimless" tenets, and halt the current discrimination against them too.

Roderick T. Long - 8/27/2004

> The bottom line is this: The
> State (government) defines what
> type of people (man and woman,
> man and man, etc.) and how many
> people may be married. The State
> of Illinois has spoken.

And why on earth should a libertarian care how the state defines anything? If the State of Illinois were to declare interracial marriages invalid, should the university roll over and refuse to grant benefits to interracial couples? I don't see how that's a libertarian position.

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