01 March 2011

Why democracy? (continued)

After my last post, I received a few replies decrying what some saw as my advocating of gay rights. Looking back on that post, it doesn't seem to me an unreasonable inference on the reader's part to make that leap. I admit that the misunderstanding is probably, at least partially, my own fault for using the word "rights". These responses missed the point of the post, though. The point was not to advocate for legalization of gay marriage or marijuana use. Rather, it was to point out that democracy is not the cure-all that people believe it to be. Democracy will always be a tool by which a majority will oppress a minority and ultimately the individual. The particular issue(s) in which this phenomenon occurs is not relevant. That said, let me expand on the issue of gay rights, marriage in particular, further to answer the questions I received.

First, there seems to be a lot of hoopla surrounding the word "marriage". Some believe that a marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Some believe that it is the union of a man and a woman, blessed by God (these people, by and large, seem to have no problem, though, with a state performed marriage absent any church). Others believe that it can be the union between two people of the same sex inside or outside of a church. Still others believe that it is not limited to two people at all. I have no particular affinity for the word "marriage", and I use it fairly loosely in the following paragraphs. If the use of the word marriage in this post offends you in this context, please feel free to replace it with "civil union" or whatever other phrase best suits your ideology.

Marriage is, or should be, from the state's perspective, nothing more than a contract, a property arrangement. Obviously, marriage means much more to the actual participants, but the state has no business beyond the property arrangement. For example, the state doesn't penalize one spouse for failing to sufficiently love the other spouse(s). However, the state does have laws for how property transfers occur between spouses when they die or dissolve their marriage, pre-nuptial or other agreements, notwithstanding. Not only that, but marriage also confers special privileges upon spouses like receiving benefits of various kinds, tax deductions, making medical decisions on behalf of an injured spouse, and protection from being compelled to testify against a spouse in court.

In the U.S., these privileges are only applicable to male/female unions under the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996. Under this act, our democracy has, for all intents and purposes, discriminated against a significant portion of the population by denying them the ability to form a marriage contract between themselves and their chosen partners. To my earlier point, the majority has oppressed the minority by denying a specific group of people the ability to voluntarily engage in a specific type of contract and receive the benefits afforded by that contract.

It seems obvious, then, that the solution is to legalize gay marriage. However, doing so would only grant more power to and further legitimize the state. To argue for legalization would legitimize the act of having made it illegal in the first place. It would give credence to the idea that one person has the right to impose his views on another via the coercion of law; it would legitimize the idea that that the government (or the majority via the government) has the authority to grant or deny permission for private parties to voluntarily enter into a contract. So we are left with a Sophie's Choice of sorts. Either, let the majority continue to oppress the minority or grant ever more power to the state. Let me suggest a third alternative: the state should cease involvement in all marriage and stop granting benefits on the basis thereof. People should be free to marry whomever they choose without having to ask permission from anyone or pay for the privilege, and the state, to the extent that it exists, should simply honor the contracts.


  1. This would complicate life for the great majority of people. Those benefits the state previously granted -- tax deductions, making medical decisions on behalf of an injured spouse, and protection from being compelled to testify against a spouse in court -- would suddenly be withdrawn. You would need to re-establish them, laying out what circumstances they would be valid ("a person cannot be compelled to testify against someone with whom he has a type 28937x33bw contract") or else the state would have to retreat further yet ("no person can be compelled to testify under any circumstances"). The former would complicate things enormously; the latter would do so as well.

  2. Life would be no more complex than it is now. I fail to see how *removing* government intervention in people's lives would *increase* complication. I realize that I didn't spell this out in this post, but the government I envision would be *radically* smaller. That is, your taxes, if they exist, would be so low that tax deductions wouldn't be necessary or provided. The government would have no say in medical decisions. You would go into a hospital and say "this is my husband/wife; he/she needs help" and the hospital would take care of him/her (obviously subject to your ability to pay for said care). And as far as being compelled to testify... without government, no one would have the authority to *force* anyone to do anything. Therefore, the exemption for certain people regarding testifying against spouses or others wouldn't be necessary.

  3. Totally agree with you. The state should not be involved.

  4. As a gay person myself, I loathe the statists who claim to defend my rights. Most gays fail to see that if their rights don't originate from a structure of real property rights, it will further fuel the neocon fears that gays are getting special privileges. The only way to achieve lasting social change is through a voluntary exchange of ideas. Bigots can only be silenced by ridicule, not statism.

    Thank you for writing about the real alternative.

  5. I agree with your sentiments entirely: "People should be free to marry whomever they choose without having to ask permission from anyone or pay for the privilege, and the state, to the extent that it exists, should simply honor the contracts."

    I'm actually getting married in six months and began to wonder "Why do I need a license to get married"? Why do I need the state's permission to enter into a contract with someone else?

  6. Fifteen years ago my wife and I were married. A "license" issued by Florida was "required". Yet we could have gone to Cuba and gotten married and it would have been valid! The State has provided me what exactly other than less money in my pocket?


Please be relevant, civil, and brief... in that order.