For libertarians, individual freedom is not simply a means to an end. Libertarians can point to empirical evidence as proof of the power of individual liberty and a lack of government interference to provide the greatest amount of prosperity to the greatest number of people. But libertarians also see liberty as an end in itself. The freedom from being told how to live your life, the ability to make your own choices and live with the consequences, is craved. It is a mindset fueled by a healthy distrust of authority to go along with an aversion to force. Many libertarians are enormously supportive of charitable causes, for example, but would never consider supporting policies that would force others to donate as well. Unless (or even if) there is an extremely compelling case for the government to get involved and utilize force, libertarians believe individuals should simply be left alone.
Which brings us to marriage, which, at the most fundamental level, is simply a contract between two individuals. No two people, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, should be prohibited from voluntarily agreeing to a contract. The government’s interference in this case manifests itself in the form of the tax benefits married couples receive that two people in a non-marital relationship do not receive.
Ideally, the government would not be involved in the business of marriage to begin with, as without government interference, there would be no controversy; simply two people agreeing to the terms of a relationship. The state’s involvement in marriage has a long tradition of exclusion and discrimination by prohibiting marriages between people of different races, religions, and social classes; the prohibition of same-sex marriage is just the latest example of state-imposed discrimination. And what is the rational for the involvement of the state? Supporters typically claim that the family is demonstrably the ideal setting in which to raise a child, and point to evidence suggesting that children born in wedlock are far more likely to succeed in school, less likely to commit crimes, and less likely to cost society through dependence on welfare programs. Even assuming that this is entirely true, it still does not provide adequate justification for “incentivizing” marriage through benefits, a system that amounts to penalizing non-married couples for not being married.
Just because a certain choice is generally considered a good one does not mean it should be forced onto people, nor that people should be systematically penalized for not making said choice. Healthy eating and exercise is proven to allow for a longer, healthier life, and not living in a healthy manner can end up costing society by driving up health insurance costs. However, this does not mean that the government should mandate eating vegetables and getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, nor should they punish individuals who don’t. Nearly every choice one makes in life could be intruded upon by the government under the logic that “if an individual makes a wrong choice, it could potentially negatively affect others,” a totalitarian mindset that should be renounced by all.
However, it appears unlikely that the current involvement of the government in marriage, nor the benefits that they provide to married couples, will end soon. Instead, the current debate regarding marriage is simply whether or not same-sex couples should be allowed to receive the same benefits that all husbands and wives receive. To me, it’s clear where libertarians should stand: on the side of marriage equality. There exists zero evidence that children raised by gay couples are more likely to cost society via welfare programs or criminal behavior, so even the already-flawed “what’s best for society” argument falls short. The current “traditional” marriage laws only serve to punish committed couples for being gay by stealing more of their money by way of taxation than hetero- sexual couples. And after all, marriage equality essentially comes down to allowing more people to pay less in taxes, an outcome that should always make freedom-loving hearts smile.
Also, read an opposing viewpoint on why fiscal conservatives should support conjugal civil marriage by Ryan Shinkel.