Alex Blaze

Can libertarianism achieve queer equality?

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 13, 2007 10:47 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Democratic Party, epistemology, libertarianism, republican party

My note: I'm shifting around on this faster than a Founder on crack. Update after the jump.

I ask this because there are a lot of GLBT people who seem to think so without really questioning its power to do so. I'll admit, it's attractive for the queer folk with its championing of self-reliance, a trait every GLBT adolescent has to develop in order to start coming out, and its questioning of power, which most queer people do as easily as breathing. I've known quite a few queer folk who describe themselves as libertarian, some understanding what it means and others not. I have one gay friend who said he was a libertarian... except he was pro-welfare and pro-single-payer health care (I don't think that there is any libertarian litmus test on any single issue, but those seemed like pretty big stumbling blocks to me). I would venture that more GLBT conservatives would feel at home with a George Will than with a James Dobson. And libertarianism's "live and let live" philosophy seems to be exactly what we're asking for politically. But does libertarianism (whose border with old-school conservatism I'm burning... crude, but useful here) actually have what it takes?

I'll grant the ideology part of the victory in Lawrence. The decision, resting chiefly on the right to privacy, was able to repeal draconian sodomy laws. And what is there to libertarianism if not privacy? And I have to credit part of the development and honing of that strategy to a group of libertarian-conservatives in Washington fighting against Anita Bryant's campaign for sodomy laws, ultimately providing a success for our community.

But how much of the energy to promote such an idea was from libertarianism? A philosophy based on a constant degredation of value, like an eagle eating its tail, cannot provide the energy for the movement that had to precede Lawrence, because Lawrence without a basic understanding of our people is Bowers. It seems more logical a narrative that liberalism adopted the language of libertarianism in that case in order to win a case in a country and legal system that often value individuality over equality.

But with Lawrence being our chief legal win on the federal level, what sort of political philosophy can work to achieve the rest of our goals in the future? Libertarianism, straight up, cannot provide comprehensive hate crimes legislation and an employment discrimination ban. DADT is up in the air since it would depend on such arguments as the cost of replacing gay and lesbian soldiers versus unit cohesion. In a cold calculus of our value to any institution, we may not win, and since we may not win until we're actually in and can show that the sky won't fall, we're forever excluded by that circular logic.

The gold cup, marriage equality, is another key issue where libertarianism is lacking, since we're asking for a positive right in that case, a right to enter into a contract with another person that gives that couplehood itself rights and responsibilities. A philosophy that stands firmly against positive rights and views each person as an individual independent of connections to others, well, doesn't seem suited to that end.

But, I think, the most important issue is the most fundamental: epistemology. A philosophy that finds value in the meaninglessness of value cannot create an abstraction like queer equality. Take, for example, the Democratic Party platform's stand on GLBT people:

We will enact the bipartisan legislation barring workplace
discrimination based on sexual orientation. We are committed to equal treatment of all service members and believe all patriotic Americans should be allowed to serve our country without discrimination, persecution, or violence. [...]

We support full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and seek equal
responsibilities, benefits, and protections for these families. In our country, marriage has been defined at the state level for 200 years, and we believe it should continue to be defined there. We repudiate President Bush's divisive effort to politicize the Constitution by pursuing a "Federal Marriage Amendment." Our goal is to bring Americans together, not drive them apart.

And the GOP's (long, but the Cliff's Notes say it's the usual anti-marriage position):

We strongly support President Bush's call for a Constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage, and we believe that neither federal nor state judges nor bureaucrats should force states to recognize other living arrangements as equivalent to marriage. We believe, and the social science confirms, that the well-being of children is best accomplished in the environment of the home, nurtured by their mother and father anchored by the bonds of marriage. We further believe that legal recognition and the accompanying benefits afforded couples should be preserved for that unique and special union of one man and one woman which has historically been called marriage.

After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization, the union of a man and a woman in marriage. Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country, and anything less than a Constitutional amendment, passed by the Congress and ratified by the states, is vulnerable to being overturned by activist judges. On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard. The Constitutional amendment process guarantees that the final decision will rest with the American people and their elected representatives. President Bush will also vigorously defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which was supported by both parties and passed by 85 votes in the Senate. This common sense law reaffirms the right of states not to recognize same-sex marriages licensed in other states.

President Bush said, "We will not stand for judges who undermine democracy by legislating from the bench and try to remake America by court order." The Republican House of Representatives has responded to this challenge by passing H.R. 3313, a bill to wthdraw jurisdiction from the federal courts over the Defense of Marriage Act. We urge Congress to use its Article III power to enact this into law, so that activist federal judges cannot force 49 other states to approve and recognize Massachusetts' attempt to redefine marriage.

And the Libertarian Party's.... Oh, wait, they don't have anything in their platform that refers to us. Are they too afraid? Are we not important enough? Do they mistakenly think that it's all state-level? There are a few mentions of gays in their forums, but the national party platform doesn't take a stand on one of the biggest issues of our time that's driving millions to the polls.

Let's agree that the absence is conspicuous.

Is this what queer equality would look like? In a world of complete equality, I suppose ENDA and hate crimes legislation wouldn't be necessary because workplace discrimination and hate crimes wouldn't happen. And in a world without DOMA, marriage equality could be left up to the states, and the states would all recognize it. And DADT wouldn't exist because there wouldn't be an ick-factor when thinking about the gays. And federal legislation could look a lot like the Libertarian Party platform because no mention of same-sex couples would be necessary.

But in the real world, such legislation is necessary because hate crimes, employment discrimination, DOMA, and DADT all exist. Can a political philosophy or a political party that doesn't acknowledge the fundamental realities of our day-to-day lives achieve queer equality?

(Yo, these thought are very much works-in-progress, so I'm non-rhetorically posing the question in the title.)


UPDATE: Kay, I didn't search the Libertarians' homepage that effectively. Here's their position:

The Issue: Politicians use popular fears and taboos to legally impose a particular code of moral and social values. Government regularly denies rights and privileges on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Principle: Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships. Government does not have legitimate authority to define or license personal relationships. Sexuality or gender should have no impact on the rights of individuals.

Solutions: Culture wars, social friction and prejudice will fade when marriage and other personal relationships are treated as private contracts, solely defined by the individuals involved, and government discrimination is not allowed.

Transitional Action: Repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act and state laws and amendments defining marriage. Oppose any new laws or Constitutional amendments defining terms for personal, private relationships. Repeal any state or federal law assigning special benefits to people based on marital status, family structure, sexual orientation or gender identification. Repeal any state or federal laws denying same-sex partners rights enjoyed by others, such as adoption of children and spousal immigration. End the Defense Department practice of discharging armed forces personnel for sexual orientation. Upgrade all less-than-honorable discharges previously assigned solely for such reasons to honorable status, and delete related information from military personnel files. Repeal all laws discriminating by gender, such as protective labor laws and marriage, divorce, and custody laws which deny the full rights of each individual.

100%, totally my bad. I'm sorry. I honestly don't know how I missed it because it's linked to on their frontpage under "Our Platform" and then included under the TOC as "Sexuality and Gender".

The question still stands, though, since a lot of queer oppression comes from the private sector. They don't support ENDA or hate crimes legislation, in fact, they go so far as to want to repeal all "protective labor laws", which, even though they're referring to women here, would probably include all gays as well. It's not a question of being gay-friendly, since I never doubted that most libertarians were, but a question of strategy and the effectiveness of such strategy.


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Alex, I know there are several persons actively working with the Indiana Libertarian Party on GLBT issues. They've never courted the GLBT vote because GLBTs have largely ignored them and went strictly Democrat. That's starting to change. My brother-in-law is a bigwig with the Libs in LaPorte. He's doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work on behalf of GLBTs.

I agree, in a perfect world, their platform makes sense. Until then, while we have Repubs, and some Dems, wanting to take away rights from GLBTs, we might find we could use some Libertarian help right now.

I just spoke on Saturday to the Indiana Libertarian Party's Central Committee. Everyone in the room voted to oppose SJR-7.

The Libertarian Party is actually very gay friendly! You might be interested in the guest post here on bilerico that Mike Kole did. He was the Lib candidate for Secretary of State. He also gave us the Lib platform on LGBT rights in that post:

I.9 Sexuality and Gender
The Issue: Politicians use popular fears and taboos to legally impose a particular code of moral and social values. Government regularly denies rights and privileges on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Principle: Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships. Government does not have legitimate authority to define or license personal relationships. Sexuality or gender should have no impact on the rights of individuals.
Solutions: Culture wars, social friction and prejudice will fade when marriage and other personal relationships are treated as private contracts, solely defined by the individuals involved, and government discrimination is not allowed.
Transitional Action: Repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act and state laws and amendments defining marriage. Oppose any new laws or Constitutional amendments defining terms for personal, private relationships. Repeal any state or federal law assigning special benefits to people based on marital status, family structure, sexual orientation or gender identification. Repeal any state or federal laws denying same-sex partners rights enjoyed by others, such as adoption of children and spousal immigration. End the Defense Department practice of discharging armed forces personnel for sexual orientation. Upgrade all less-than-honorable discharges previously assigned solely for such reasons to honorable status, and delete related information from military personnel files. Repeal all laws discriminating by gender, such as protective labor laws and marriage, divorce, and custody laws which deny the full rights of each individual.

Wow.... my idea about how to "fix" marriage is exactly the same as the Libertarian party's platform. No one has ever liked that idea when I expounded upon it though.

That's what I'm thinking, Lynn. Like positing marriage as an emotionless, non-cultural, non-religious contract between two individual people might get to the right answer, but I don't think that that will catch on.