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Monday, January 05, 2009

Bob Barr repudiates his own Defense Of Marriage Act; will social conservatives ever learn?

Bob_Barr-2008_cropped U.S. Libertarian Party leader Bob Barr, the original author of the Defense Of Marriage Act while a conservative Georgia congressman, today outlined in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times his reasons for no longer supporting the legislation. Here's an excerpt:

In 1996, as a freshman member of the House of Representatives, I wrote the Defense of Marriage Act, better known by its shorthand acronym, DOMA, than its legal title. The law has been a flash-point for those arguing for or against same-sex marriage ever since President Clinton signed it into law. Even President-elect Barack Obama has grappled with its language, meaning and impact.

I can sympathize with the incoming commander in chief. And, after long and careful consideration, I have come to agree with him that the law should be repealed.

Western Standard blogger Terrence Watson yesterday reported that the Libertarian Party opposes Proposition 8, an amendment to California's state constitution that would prohibit same-sex marriage. Andrew Davis, the party's director of communications, wrote:

Proposition 8 represents the ultimate failure in direct democracy and majority rule—when the people vote against more freedom, rather than for more freedom.


As far as California goes, the people have spoken, even if it's not what some wanted to hear. So long as people are allowed to put referendums on the ballot, there will be times when the majority wins at the cost of minority rights. Does it make it right? Of course not, but that is the risk one takes when transferring direct power from the legislature back to the citizens.

Social conservatives are rightly concerned that an important social institution is being redefined by the state to achieve political ends that would likely not be easily achieved in the marketplace of cultural ideas. The lesson social conservatives should learn from the hijacking and reengineering of marriage is that the state should not be trusted with cherished institutions, or as the guardian of morality.

The only option now for pro-family conservatives is to advocate for the separation of marriage and state (the privatization of mariage), and for the dismantling of human rights laws that would prevent churches from excluding non-traditional definitions of marriage (the separation of church and state). It's a long shot, I'll admit.

To learn more about the history of Canada's social conservative movement, read "Standing on Guard for Thee" by author and home schooler Dr. Michael Wagner, who takes the #75 spot on the Liberty 100.

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on January 5, 2009 | Permalink


Good for Bob Barr!

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-01-05 3:04:37 PM


"The lesson social conservatives [read: liberty-oposing fascists] should learn from the hijacking and reengineering of marriage is that the state should not be trusted with cherished institutions, or as the guardian of morality."

This is the lesson? Really? Because the moment the state gets out of the marriage business is the moment that gay couples all across the US will be married, many by churches that are quite happy to marry gay couples but only refrain from so doing now because the state won't let them. It is interesting, by the way, that people so worried about what curches are or will be forced to do or prohibited from doing don't seem to mind so much that churches that want to marry gay couples are not allowed to do so.

But regardless, gay couples have been living together and performing committment ceremonies for a long long time. Liberty-oposing fascists ... er ... social conservatives might "cherish" the fact that they have not been treated equally under the law, but it is a simple fact of our culture that marriage as a social institution has been one that gays and straights have both participated in for centuries. It's only in law that equal recognition has been denied.

In the end, I think the real lesson is that liberty-oposing fascists ... er ... social conservatives should stop trying to oppose the fundamental equality of all citizens.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2009-01-05 3:12:05 PM

You take the social order that social conservatism helps to provide for granted, Fact Check. I do not like statists of any variety -- and, sadly, some so-cons fit this description -- but we must allow society to create institutions that foster the kind of values that sustain civilization and liberty. That requires the government to stay out of private affairs.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-05 3:21:43 PM

Matthew, I agree with you. As a social conservative, I can have a strong opinion on gay marriage, without forcing my belief on others.

Speaking of the sepration of the state and other institutions, I would like to see the educational system extricated as well.

Posted by: TM | 2009-01-05 3:24:03 PM


I agree with the policy proposals you set out (essentially, getting the government out of the marriage business). Also, I would agree that there are many instances of immoral conduct that the government should do nothing about (e.g., I think it would be immoral to attend and lend support to a peaceful rally the point of which is to express the evil idea that Israelis should have to sit there and get murdered rather than annihilate those who are attempting to murder them...but, provided one is not, in the process, taking control of someone else's material or spiritual values without their consent, I think that the government should not prevent such immoral conduct).

However, I think it is imprecise (and incorrect) - or, at least, misleading - to say that a government is not or should not be a "guardian of morality". When the government threatens to use force in response to such things as theft, kidnapping, and murder, it is guarding morality.

However, in a free country, the government is not engaged in the process of punishing immorality. Rather, in a free country, the government prevents/punishes conduct that would/has prevent(ed) any individual from acting morally; from rationally pursuing his own happiness.

The criterion is: consent (not agreement - even a child can agree - but consent). Specifically, if someone takes (or is about to take) control over a person's life, liberty, or property without the person's consent, the government rightly steps in with defensive/retaliatory force.

In that role, the government is indeed a guardian of morality: it defends every person's ability to live a moral life (i.e., a life logically consistent with the facts of reality, including the facts which allow one to know, objectively, what one ought and ought not to do at any point in time).

Posted by: Paul McKeever | 2009-01-05 3:30:48 PM

Separation of school and state -- I'm with you, TM

It's sad that the state is pitting people against each other with it's winner take all approach to politics.

Conservatives and liberals battle to control marriage and to foist their views on each other via the state. This has to end, and the only solution is liberty.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-05 3:31:25 PM

"You take the social order that social conservatism helps to provide for granted, Fact Check."

I'm not sure how social conservatism, in itself, _provides_ the social order. Doesn't the social order emerge, a la the invisible hand? Social conservatives may have some role to play in the process, but so do social liberals.

I don't think social liberals are engaged in some kind of plot to dismantle the values that sustain civilization. The moral relativism of some on the left is dangerous, and arguing for same-sex marriage on that basis is disingenuous at best.

But what about arguing for same-sex marriage on the grounds that it would reinforce, rather than diminish, the values of personal responsibility, commitment, etc.?

That would put social conservatives and liberals on equal footing in the following sense: both could say they were interested in supporting the values that "sustain civilization and liberty." So who would be right?

I'm not so sure I am willing to grant to social conservatives the mantle of defender of civilization.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-01-05 3:39:06 PM

Thank you for being more precise, Paul. I was going to qualify that statement himself with a comment on the distinction between vice and crime, but you did a better job.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-05 3:41:45 PM

Social conservatives create order the way business people create prosperity. That doesn't take away from the invisible hand or spontaneous order theory. They are the actors in this process, and without the market they would be the failed actors in this process...they would be government workers. :-)

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-05 3:54:41 PM

TW: "But what about arguing for same-sex marriage on the grounds that it would reinforce, rather than diminish, the values of personal responsibility, commitment, etc.?"

Sure. If marriage makes society better why not bring gays into the fold? Stable relationships, more long term thinking, better financial planning, less promiscuity, etc. All good things.

My beef is only with the state forcing change -- and a pace of change -- that might be unwelcome and unsettling.

And I really don't like the state pitting citizens against each other. Gays hate so-cons and so-cons hate gays because neither can afford to allow the other political power. I say get rid of the political power.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-05 4:35:43 PM

How can you seriously refer to "the marketplace of cultural ideas" in regards to marriage? There was no marketplace of ideas here at all but a state sanctioned monopoly. When government intervenes to prevent competition you can't call that a "marketplace". What you have been advocating is marriage protectionism.

As long as govt. uses marriage as a criteria for policies that impact one's taxes, the immigration of a foreign spouse, the right NOT to testify against a spouse, etc., then the state ought to open this option to gays as well. It is like govt. schools. I don't want them but as long as they exist it would be wrong to say that Jews, Catholics or blonds can't attend them. So marriage equality has to come while we work to abolish state marriage.

Posted by: CLS | 2009-01-05 6:38:53 PM

No one is addressing the point that marriage is NOT a right in the first place. It is time for the homosexual lobby to accept that they were granted civil unions with all the benefits of marriage minus the name and move on.

The concept of rights has never been so abused and distorted, and it is not only the homosexual lobby that is guilty.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-01-05 6:54:34 PM

Barr is a joke! This is the same guy that as a congressman talked about shooting ATF agents. There is nothing wrong with public referendums(such as Prop 8). They are a perfect example of democracy at the most basic level. These referendums allow people not bureaucrats or judges to decide public policy. Libertarians should be supporting referendums because they take the decisionmaking power from the state or judges and give it to individuals. I believe Barr is changing his position because there is increasing pressure by the homosexual community to brand all anti-gay marriage opponents as bigots. Marriage has always been an institution that was recognized and approved by the state(at least while the U.S. has been around). This issue like abortion and banning school prayer(guess what, the U.S. was not a theocracy before 1962) is just one more example of the left trying to change the society from Judeo-Christian to an anything goes moral relativism society. Social conservatives only came into the public arena because the left spit on us and tried to change our country. They have already screwed Canada and I'll go down swinging to prevent them from further damaging America. Fact Check condemns the opponents of leftist social policies as fascist. Perhaps he should look in the mirror. I find something wrong with someone who thinks that the views of the majority on social issues(gay marriage, abortion, and school prayer) should be disregarded when they don't agree with them! Seems like Factcheck might haver some fascist or communist tendencies.

Posted by: Alan | 2009-01-05 7:02:04 PM

Excellent point Alan that libertarians should be supporting referendums instead of state decision making. I agree let the people decide instead of the government.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-01-05 7:17:50 PM

I'll agree that democracy decentralizes political decision making, but it must do this within the public sphere and leave private matters private.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-05 7:24:18 PM

"No one is addressing the point that marriage is NOT a right in the first place."


According to the California Supreme Court, this is incorrect. The court did rule that marriage is a fundamental right, under California law (see In re Marriage Cases.) As far as I know, no one has denied this.

Even the wording of Proposition 8 recognized that marriage is a right.


"My beef is only with the state forcing change -- and a pace of change -- that might be unwelcome and unsettling."


"I'll agree that democracy decentralizes political decision making, but it must do this within the public sphere and leave private matters private."


The problem with this is that current marriage law does interfere with private matters. For example, even churches that would like to marry same-sex couples are forbidden from doing so.

In the best of worlds, the state would get out of the marriage business. In this world, the state has the option of either preserving the status quo, or giving churches the option to marry same-sex couples if that is what they wish to do.

I don't know why giving more options to churches in this regard is anti-liberty, insofar as churches that do not wish to marry same-sex couples are not forced to do so. Options can be expanded for some groups without eliminating options other groups have.



Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-01-05 8:01:49 PM

Are churches really prohibited from marrying gay couples -- or are these marriages simply not recognized by the state? How could anyone love each other without the state's sanction? It's positively unholy.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-05 9:08:32 PM


Well, they're prohibited from doing what some churches can do -- that whole "By the power vested in me by the state of California, etc" thing, aren't they?

Certain religions have the power to recognize a union of two people in a way that the state will also recognize. Other religions don't.

I won't say that just because some churches would be happy to perform same-sex marriages that this is sufficient ground on which to justify granting them the power to do so:

Just because A would like the power to x is not always a reason for the state to grant A the power to x.

But if A can plausibly claim that certain values would be served if it were granted that power, and granting A that power would not diminish the powers/options of other groups, then we've got something more like a compelling reason to grant to A that power.

That's all I'm saying. What would be lost, in extending this power to churches that wish to marry same-sex couples?



Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-01-05 9:28:33 PM

If I never hear the words "By the power vested in me by the state of wherever," I'd be quite happy.

As for your question: what would be lost?

I don't know. That's half the point, though.

What are the potential consequences of changing these institutions? When institutions change over time in response to changing values, that's fine.

When change is foisted on institutions and society, there can be unseen consequences.

Do you really have no concern for institutions like family, marriage, church, etc -- putting aside any religious significance of these institutions? Do you not believe these institutions are essential to maintaining an orderly society?

Or is it simply your view that same sex marriage is trivial, while important to the dignity of the gay community?

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-05 9:52:57 PM


There are two points here.

As to the potential consequences of the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, I don't think anyone knows precisely what they'll be. We do know that nations and states that have recognized same-sex marriage are not crumbling, or at least are not crumbling for reasons that have to do with same-sex marriage.

But I look at it this way: why would straight people abandon the myriad of incentives (social, economic, and political) they have to marry, should same-sex marriage be legally recognized? Are they that irrational?

In addition, why would marriage cease to have the positive benefits you ascribe to it, should gay people be allowed to marry?

The second point is whether the values at stake in this area are worth advancing, even in the face of uncertainty (though, given my above remarks, I don't think the uncertainty is quite as all-encompassing as some seem to believe.)

If we say no, aren't we engaging in the same kind of catastrophic reasoning that certain proponents of state-intervention use in the face of global warming? They will readily admit that we don't know the degree to which humans contribute to the warming, that we don't really know what the consequences are, and so on: but, they say, the unknowns are so terrible, we ought to base our policies around them.

That's extraordinarily weak ground on which to deny options to a certain class of people we grant to others. I'd also suggest it's ground libertarians do not use when it comes to expanding options in other ways.

For example, eliminating the income tax and/or drug laws would undoubtedly have effects on social institutions, many we can't really imagine at this point.

But libertarians both a) make predictions about what those effects might be, and why they're not as bad as liberals/social conservatives think they'll be, and b) argue that the bad consequences might be worth it, if more important values are served.

I don't see why we should be more hesitant about same-sex marriage, especially when we have real world examples that seem to suggest civilization doesn't crumble once such marriages receive legal recognition.



Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-01-05 10:30:45 PM

Why do we need "licenses" from the state to be married anyway? Oh yeah! so the tax people can make you responsible for each others taxes. You become one "tax unit".
Just another area the state has no business being involved in the first place.
There's no reason in the world I shouldn't be able to marry anyone I want to, anywhere I want to for the sole purpose of stating to my friends and relatives that I intend to be bonded to this woman for life. "Legal" recognition isn't something that is required for anything other than tax puposes.
Its really no one else's business anyway.

Posted by: JC | 2009-01-05 10:45:36 PM

Terrence, I stand by my statement that marriage is not a right. That some court, judicial activist or group claims it is a right does not make it so in the true sense. Many of these now also claim that housing is a right, that welfare is a right but again it only shows how the concept of right has become so distorted. As I said this distortion and abuse is not limited to the homosexual lobby.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-01-05 11:58:23 PM


I see what you're saying, and I agree that the language of rights has been much abused lately.

At the same time, there's this dilemma:

Suppose the legal system recognizes right X. It may be that X is not a right in the moral sense. Nevertheless, the legal system grants a right to X, which basically means it grants the people who have the right certain powers and/or privileges.

We're still not talking about a moral right, not a right in the true sense. But if the law grants that "right" to one group, and not to another -- and for no good reason -- then hasn't something gone wrong?

I think you and I would both agree there's no such thing as a "right to a driver's license." But if the state gave licenses to, say, white people, and not African-Americans, that would be a problem: a moral problem, I'd say, despite the fact that the "right" in question has no real moral basis.

Would you agree with this?



Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-01-07 6:52:31 AM

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