When I opened the New University last week, I found the inevitable editorial on the controversial Proposition 8. The paper provided not one, but two articles that lamented California’s decision to strike down gay marriage—the editorial board’s “Gay Marriage Debate Continues” and Gavin Greene’s “Sacred Hypocrisy.” As I expected, both articles peddled the same half-hearted rhetoric that warps the concept of natural rights.
As a natural rights activist, I feel disappointment toward the Proposition 8 opponents, supposedly my allies, who hurl anathemas to defend a politically flimsy position that has little to do with natural rights. On the other hand, Proposition 8 supporters played fair game in their pursuit to exclude homosexuals from the domain of state matrimony.
I would even argue that a majority of Proposition 8 opponents are not against exclusion in itself, but are only for the inclusion of what they perceive to be an acceptable group.
First, the issue starts with natural rights. In short, natural rights mean life, liberty and property—the idea that an individual can do anything as long as he does not interfere with another. These rights remain absolute, much like nature and science. The government can never grant rights; it can only punish the exercise of rights. Natural rights do not exist in the form of law. The right to breath, speak freely and own an iPod can never be abolished; it can only be discouraged through coercion.
In contrast, society permits the government to design structure and establish incentives to compel or to appease individuals. Therefore, government is inherently discriminatory, and the recognition of marriage by state is not a natural right, but a privilege.
Think of it this way: when the government decides to subsidize sugar farmers or provide welfare for single mothers, do you feel a sense of inequality? State-recognized marriage does not even involve wealth; it is a document that asserts legitimacy. It is merely the will of the majority to designate such a document for heterosexuals; no different than how the majority consents to subsidize Florida sugar farmers rather than Idaho potato farmers.
That is the mechanism of democracy that social liberals fail to understand; yet, the editorial board was content to create a false dichotomy between ignorant religious voters and righteous equal rights voters. In a democracy, both are rational actors vying for privileges, no different than unions versus businesses. Greene’s cynical description of the nuclear family and marriage assumed that Proposition 8 voters needed a logical, utilitarian justification for their uncivil actions. In a democracy, they just need a majority.
It is my view that while state-recognized marriage is a privilege, plain old marriage is a right. Homosexuals remain free to wear rings and claim they are married, just as other people remain free to either recognize or ignore them. Nevertheless, gay rights advocates continue to pursue equality through the state.
I admit that it is impossible to convince all social liberals that the state is inconsistent with natural rights. The editorial implicitly argues that state marriage must include gays so as not to ostracize them. It sounds innocent enough. Yet, between the lines, I notice the same group-mentality approach deployed by Proposition 8 advocates, rather than an actual defense of natural rights.
To those who insist upon “natural rights” in the domain of state marriage, I ask this: would you permit polygamous or incestuous marriages? A man and two women or a man and a related woman will sound appalling to almost everyone, including the everyday social liberal. However, both represent voluntary contracts among consensual adults. Is that not consistent with the definition of natural rights? Even the proposition’s opponents would travel torturous lengths to distance themselves from such a radical interpretation of marital rights. To a natural rights purist, that is the real sacred hypocrisy.
Liberals insist on playing chess with conservatives; they want to assert rights through factionalism and government, fundamentally misunderstanding that liberty means flipping over the chessboard and leaving. A one-size-fits-all rule of “only these marriages and not those” continues to miss the goalposts for true equality and rights. Freedom and equality means voting yes on Proposition 8, then starting a petition for Proposition 8B to revoke marriage recognition for heterosexuals and to repeal marriage bans of any kind.
While this may be unrealistic, the defense of natural rights is not based on realism or the “me too” entitlement epidemic that social liberals continue to promote. It is based on the consistent philosophy that we can judge, but can never impose. Conservatives may have deceived others by claiming to defend “traditional marriage,” but liberals fooled me in their claim to defend “rights.”
Peter To is a second-year economics and international studies double-major. He can be reached at email@example.com.