In just a week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8 are constitutional. Whatever the justices ultimately decide — we won’t know until late June, in any case — the debate is sure to stir heated emotions on both sides regarding the freedom to marry.
As conservatives and libertarians, the three of us believe that we’d all be better served if government extricated itself from the business of marriage altogether, leaving it as a private contractual matter. Government is already big and intrusive enough, and too invested in telling ordinary Americans what is right and wrong. And as Senator Rand Paul said last week, getting government out of marriage would also take away the time-worn opposition talking point about efforts to “redefine marriage.”
However, for the time being, getting the government out of marriage is not a realistic possibility, especially given the many legal issues tied to marriage today. The next best thing, then, is for the government to act equitably in its involvement in marriage, and that means allowing all committed couples the freedom to marry and to have their marriages recognized by all levels of government.
Because of this shared belief, we have recently joined a group of about 30 other young conservatives from around the nation in the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry. Our group regards personal liberty to be indivisible from economic liberty, and aims to persuade our friends and allies in the conservative movement that advancing the freedom to marry can only strengthen families and society.
Our argument on this is hardly new: It is a fundamental conservative belief that all human beings have an inalienable right not just to life, but also to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What could be more inextricably tied to liberty and happiness than an American’s ability to commit to a spouse — and family — of their choosing?
Those in favor of excluding gay and lesbian couples from marriage have never purported to show that liberty is advanced, or even unharmed, by banning the recognition of marriage (or civil unions or domestic partnerships) between them. They have focused instead on a false perception that society benefits when certain couples are marginalized by their own government.
Marriage is not a zero-sum game. Preventing gay and lesbian couples from legally marrying does not reserve more of it for straight couples. The only thing it does is prevent certain fellow Americans — who work and pay taxes and vote, just like everybody else — from taking part in one of the most cherished institutions of our society. In America, marriage is widely considered to be the ultimate method of committing to another person; it is the foundational block on which two people build a life together. It binds people together in a way that even the strongest other partnerships, whether emotional or business, do not.
And it’s not good just for the couple. Marriage makes families stronger, more self-sufficient, and less dependent on government. It is far easier to build wealth and security in a marriage than as two people living separately, or in an only “kind of-sort of” committed relationship.
To be sure, marriage is not for everyone. But at a time when fewer people are willing to make such a lifelong commitment to another person, it makes sense to ensure that those willing to do so have the freedom to make their vows — and have the government recognize them.
This remains a question of liberty, and the advancement of it. Supporting the freedom to marry is not only the right, fair thing to do; it also presents an opportunity to roll government back in a life-changing way and give our fellow citizens their right as Americans to solidify relationships in which they can be more self-sufficient and secure.
That is something worth fighting for.
Ed Lopez is the national vice chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. Richard Lorenc is the incoming director of programs and alumni relations at the Foundation for Economic Education. Liz Mair is the president of Mair Strategies LLC and a GOP communications strategist.