Freedom and Control in a Second-Best World

Clayton Cramer, homophobe par excellence, claims that

Libertarians often argue that they are on the side of homosexuals because it is the side of freedom. But this story is another reminder that no, it's not about freedom, it's about control.

and then cites the following article to back up this claim:

The six members of Atlanta's Human Relations Commission said Monday they believe Druid Hills Golf Club has violated a city ordinance by not extending spousal benefits to the partners of gay members.

It's clear that Druid Hills Golf Club does not deny that they treat married couples and couples that have a domestic relationship differently, and the [city] ordinance clearly states that they should not be treated differently, and that's it," said Dr. Fernando A. Gonzalez, a commission member, following two hours of testimony.

Well, this particular story may be about control rather than freedom, but I hardly see what this has to do with libertarians. Can Cramer quote an actual libertarian who opposes freedom of association for private entities? Wouldn't such opposition necessarily mean that this imaginary libertarian isn't actually a libertarian at all, if we consider, as I do, a private entity's freedom of association to be a vital aspect of private property rights?

For some strange reason, though, I can't remember the last time Cramer criticized blacks for pushing civil rights a little too far to the point of infringing upon freedom of association. Why is that, I wonder? Is Cramer consistent in his support for freedom of association, or does he just hate gays and not blacks? Interesting, that.

For a more enlightened view of things, a few months ago, Will Baude noticed a possible dilemma for libertarians in the area of anti-discrimination laws. [See: Second-Best Worlds and Reasoning Intelligently in a Second-Best World]

On the one hand, libertarians oppose many anti-discrimination laws on the grounds that they violate private property rights by limiting the freedom of association of private individuals and organizations. On the other hand, libertarians generally support equal treatment under the law, and if certain groups are protected, such as racial and ethnic minorities, then the law should also protect other groups like gays and lesbians.

Will suggests the following example:

Suppose, one, that you tentatively support the idea of gays being married (in the abstract).

Suppose, two, that you also oppose government endorsement of marriage at all-- that is, (like some members of this blog) you think marriage should be privatized.

What do you do with Gay Marriage? You may not agree with both of these suppositions, but nearly everybody I know who believes in gay marriage thinks that if marriage can't be privatized then government marriages/unions should be made available to homosexuals. Very few people say, "I'm so against government marriage that even though I support the idea of homosexual marriage, I don't think we should have any more government marriages than we have to."

The problem with Will's example is that it is a different beast than other kinds of anti-discrimination laws. In cases like the one cited by Cramer, anti-discrimination laws violate a private entity's freedom to associate with whomever it pleases. But in the case of gay marriage, there is no violation of freedom of association to worry about. Instead, it is simply a case of government discrimination, and libertarians' committment to equal treatment under the law kicks in. Sure, in a perfect world, marriage would be privatized. But there is little injustice associated with government endorsement of marriage, except insofar as the government fails to include homosexuals in its endorsement. Whereas, by applying the already unjust anti-discrimination laws even further to homosexuals, we are increasing the amount of injustice and further decreasing the legitimate freedom of private individuals and organizations. Government endorsement of gay marriage is a "victimless crime," so to speak, while restricting freedom of association is not.

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'Government endorsement of

'Government endorsement of gay marriage is a "victimless crime," '

No, it is not. Government endorsement of marriage entails the doling out of benefits to some at the expense of others. Why should the legal asymmetry between gays and straights who wish to be married be considered more important or offensive than the legal asymmetry between married people and single people?

All government has to offer is carrots and sticks and every carrot was taken from someone else by way of a stick. There is no just way to divvy up stolen loot.

It's fruitless to attempt to make state marriage fair. Individuals should evict government from their own marriages.

Your point is well taken,

Your point is well taken, John, but most of the benefits enjoyed by married couples as a result of government endorsement come from the private sector, with tax breaks being the big exception. Although I have heard some talk that married couples may actually pay more as a result of government endorsement.

The point I was trying to make, though, is that it doesn't seem like expanding marriage to include gays results in injustice in the same way that expanding anti-discrimination laws does. The only victims of government sponsorship of marriage, if there are any, are unmarried couples who cannot enjoy the alleged tax benefits; expanding the definition of marriage appears to lessen this victimhood.

If the benefits of state

If the benefits of state marriage are insignificant then the harm done in denying state marriage is insignificant. If the benefits are significant then they come at the significant expense of others.

If the benefits of state

If the benefits of state marriage are insignificant then the harm done in denying state marriage is insignificant.

True. I don't think the harm done in denying state marriage is very significant practically speaking. But the harm is symbolic, just like having separate water fountains or bathrooms for blacks is symbolically unjust, even though it may not have caused much harm practically. Equality under the law is an important principle, even when the actual effects of the law are relatively insignificant.

Further, isn't it a good thing when more people are given tax breaks? That means the state is stealing from some of us less. True, it also means the state is stealing from others more, but I've never accepted the argument against tax evaders that they are acting unjustly by causing a larger burden to be placed on other victims. Escape if you can, I say.

"True. I don't think the

"True. I don't think the harm done in denying state marriage is very significant practically speaking. But the harm is symbolic, just like having separate water fountains or bathrooms for blacks is symbolically unjust, even though it may not have caused much harm practically. Equality under the law is an important principle, even when the actual effects of the law are relatively insignificant."

Why are you encouraging people to submit their personal lives to the state for insignificant reasons?

"Further, isn't it a good thing when more people are given tax breaks?"

For the people who get them. But there aren't going to be budget cuts to subsidize gay marriage, others will pay more.

Why are you encouraging

Why are you encouraging people to submit their personal lives to the state for insignificant reasons?

I'm not doing any such thing. What I am doing is arguing that if the state is to exist, it must treat its subjects equally. It may not grant benefits (even symbolic benefits) to some and not others without a very good reason for doing so. That is not to say that I am encouraging gays to get married; rather, I am merely arguing that they should have the same choices that heterosexuals currently have.

I'd like to question your

I'd like to question your use of the "homophobe" label.

Either you are:
(1) using the word in a meaningful way, and you really think Cramer disapproves of homosexuality because he fears gays; or
(2) you have in this case succumbed to politically correct speech standards and are using the word as a catch-all label for people who disapprove of homosexuality for whatever reason--be it ethical, religious, or psychological.

If (1) is the case, then you must have some inside information to warrant your contention. If there's another explanation, I would be interested to hear it.

Chuck, I'm #2 is partially

Chuck,

I'm #2 is partially correct and I had a feeling someone might mention this, so I come prepared. Using the word "homophobe" to describe someone who hates gays is not evidence that I have succumbed to politically correct speech standards; rather, it is merely the generally accepted term for anti-gay sentiment. Similarly, the term "anti-Semitism" is the term widely understood to mean anti-Jewish sentiment, even though Jews are not the only "semites" in the world (Arabs are semites too).

If you notice, I objected to the term "African-American" in my most recent post, not because it is politically correct, but because there is a better alternative ("black") and because it can lead to ambiguities in the language in a way that the term "homophobe" does not.

Thank you for your response.

Thank you for your response. It raises another question for me. Leaving aside the question of whether Cramer actually hates gays and what information we have that might lead us to conclude that he does, do you think it is possible for someone to disapprove of homosexuality without hating gay people? If a person thinks that homosexuality is morally wrong, does that entail that this person hates gays?

If not, then is "homophobe" the correct terms for disapproving non-haters?

If you prefer, we can continue via email. I realize that this thread is somewhat old already.

If you read Cramer's blog

If you read Cramer's blog for an extended period of time, it becomes clear that he has an extreme dislike for homosexuality. This particular case is a good example. The fact that he singles out homosexuals for (otherwise legitimate) criticism without mentioning the other groups that are equally guilty of the same offense is pretty good evidence that he has something against homosexuals in particular.

I do believe it is possible to disapprove of homosexuality without hating gay people; hate the sin but love the sinner and all that jazz. But singling out gay people and criticizing them for faults without mentioning these same faults in other minority groups is not a good way to go about demonstrating this principle.

I see what you are getting

I see what you are getting at. I enjoy Clayton Cramer's blog, and I probably agree with him on a good many things, but if indeed he does criticize gays for things of which straight people are also guilty, but for which he won't criticize straight people, then you've got a point. Thanks for clarifying.