Liberalism Unbound

In the OT over the weekend, I asserted that the reductio of liberalism involved drag queen shows for kids, among other things, one of these other things being gay ‘marriage’, or what I prefer to call marriage redefinition. Let me explain this argument by comparing Locke’s view of marriage with the view of classical liberals now.

Locke in An Essay concerning the true original, extent and end of civil Government writes:

78. Conjugal society is made by a voluntary compact between man and woman, and though it consist chiefly in such a communion and right in one another’s bodies as is necessary to its chief end, procreation, yet it draws with it mutual support and assistance, and a communion of interests too, as necessary not only to unite their care and affection, but also necessary to their common offspring, who have a right to be nourished and maintained by them till they are able to provide for themselves.

79. For the end of conjunction between male and female being not barely procreation, but the continuation of the species, this conjunction betwixt male and female ought to last, even after procreation, so long as is necessary to the nourishment and support of the young ones, who are to be sustained by those that got them till they are able to shift and provide for themselves.

Now, just before moving on to consider classical liberals on marriage, let’s compare Locke’s view briefly to standard view of marriage (standard view herein) that has prevailed for the last 2000 years as outlined in Cronin’s Science of Ethics:

Marriage may be considered in its two-fold aspect of the matrimonial state, and the contractual act whereby that state is begun. We shall here consider marriage in its first sense only, and as such it is defined — a stable I union of persons of opposite sexes, made under contract, with a view principally to the birth and rearing of children. In this definition are contained the bare essentials of marriage, i.e. the elements that are required not for marriage at its best, but for marriage simply. It represents the least number of conditions required both in regard to the union itself, and the purpose to which the union is directed, in order that such union may be accounted a marriage.

Both generally agree that it is a union between the sexes, that its primary end is procreation and the good of the children that follow, and that mutual assistance and support are secondary but not insignificant ends that follow from the first, and that the conditions of the marriage are determined by that primary end.

So what do classical liberals now say about marriage?  Not much, really. What you typically find is a case that rigorously avoids the content of marriage but speaks about either (i) why the regulation of marriage should no longer be the purview of the state, (ii) why marriage should be redefined so as to not interfere with individual freedom, or (iii) why marriage should not be redefined because it marks an expansion of state power.

Neither of these positions can plausible defend the standard view. The first is effectively an attempt to disarm the issue by ostensibly removing marriage from the political field but does nothing of the sort precisely because marriage is a public relationship and is mentioned in a variety of legal instruments. The second, of course, marks a crushing defeat of the standard view as the public meaning of marriage is changed by government decree, which changes the public understanding of marriage, both at law and as a matter of culture. The third view pretends to save marriage by marking it out as a pre-political institution that imposes limits on state power and thereby preserves individual liberty, but the silence as to the content of marriage and its ends, robs it of any durability. If individual liberty is the end by which limits on state power are justified, how are we to deny the claim that people of the same sex cannot marry, or that more than two people, whatever the nature of their relationship, cannot marry, especially where this appeal appears to be motivated by individual freedom, or respecting their right to marry is asserted. The denial requires some conception of marriage to avoid appearing question-begging, and since the impetus of politics and law is always to expand the range of freedom under a liberal regime, the dissonance calls for relief which is finally achieved by recourse to option 2, an expansion of the definition of marriage.

This is made all the more certain given the tendency of classical liberals to view relationships as ‘private’, including the ends of these relationships, and thus as entirely up to the parties concerned, whatever the relationship. The state, according to this view, ought to be neutral as to the content and end of marriage so as not to interfere with the wants of the parties involved. Robbed of the means by which to defend the standard view, the classical liberal in time is left with either denying the state the power to regulate marriage, or simply conceding to the expansion of definition because they have forgotten the reasons that justified the standard view to begin with.

We see this process repeated again and again. The only way out of this mess is to address the content of these issues rather than eschewing them. Further, it is recognizing that there is no ‘neutral’ position to be had nor to think that this is even advisable. There is no ‘view from nowhere’, the state will take a position, and it better be the one you are defending.  Of course, in doing so, one ceases to be a liberal, which explains the difficulty.

36 thoughts on “Liberalism Unbound”

  1. Kudos to you Dover for putting the effort in.

    You are a gentleman, you can scrap but don’t lose your cool.

    Here’s a short response.

    Ultimately whatever you call it, a civil union or marriage, same sex couples cohabitated in the same way married couples did. Ultimately it was about equal rights. It was virtually the same (de facto relationships were recognised legally for a long time) but it should be exactly the same. Arguably same sex marriage existed very briefly in 2004, IIRC.

    Maybe all that was needed was one line in the Family Law Act to have the same intended effect? I don’t agree for reasons of substantive equality being matter by perception leading to deviations from procedural equality.

    The state should not get on the way of citizens to contract with each other for mutual benefit. That is the premise behind demanding equal rights. I don’t think that can be extended to other family law rights outside of marriage per se without special pleading.

    There are a few things which I disagree with you but they are axiomatic. I am not sure they can be argued as right or wrong.

    Such arguments would be very open to interpretation and could be taken up by varying political positions all in opposition to each other.

    More later, really on assumptions and premises.


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  2. Ultimately whatever you call it, a civil union or marriage, same sex couples cohabitated in the same way married couples did. Ultimately it was about equal rights. It was virtually the same (de facto relationships were recognised legally for a long time) but it should be exactly the same.

    This just proved my point. And you can see how it could play out, partly already has, with gender identity: Ultimately whatever you call it, trans-men or men, trans-men live and act in the same way men do. Ultimately it is about equal rights. Trans-men are virtually the same (trans-men have been recognised legally for considerable time) but it should be exactly the same. Pretend the content is ambiguous. Defer to rights while ignoring that the ambiguity raised begs the question re rights. Then trade on whatever was tolerated as conceding the matter absolutely.


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  3. Whichever way you dice it, the institution of Marriage as a family building block has been marginalised and devalued in western culture. One of the outcomes is that young people have fewer heterosexual relationships and children are not being born. Replacement theory, as some call it, is observable.


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  4. Thought provoking..

    I used to think the state should just get the hell out of marriage;

    Locke and Cronin both highlight it, you touch on the it, but then ignore it by focusing solely on the partners in marriage.

    that its primary end is .. the good of the children that follow

    The state definitely has an interest in protecting it future – ie: children. Promoting family stability via marriage is probably the most ‘liberal’ way it can do that (outsource the care to the child’s parents). Direct involvement of the state in raising orphans or dysfunctional kids is the most illiberal way.

    Whatever people do with marriage that doesn’t involve children is near meaningless, and I would follow the ‘state has no role in it’ view..


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  5. The state definitely has an interest in protecting it future – ie: children. Promoting family stability via marriage is probably the most ‘liberal’ way it can do that (outsource the care to the child’s parents). Direct involvement of the state in raising orphans or dysfunctional kids is the most illiberal way.

    Whatever people do with marriage that doesn’t involve children is near meaningless, and I would follow the ‘state has no role in it’ view..

    Locke touches on this but Cronin is far more focussed on this aspect, but the point both make is that marriage just is that relationship which produces children and therefore certain obligations follow from that end. That is all we need to know and care about as a matter of policy. That this or that couple may marry and fail to produce children is neither here nor there and shouldn’t obscure the principle end of the relationship understood generally.

    But on the broader point, although the classical liberal might believe that it is possible to not involve the state in such matters, it simply isn’t a live option. Apart from anything else, the other side is always prepared to deploy state power.


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  6. Marriage has never been a union between two people. It’s a type of compact between the two people as a newly formed entity on one hand and their community on the other, where “community” is a generic term with layers like an onion. The term “in-laws”, where blood relatives gain various rights thought to be both natural and legal, shows marriage isn’t a contract between just the two people. Suppose the couple die in a car crash – why do blood relatives have any right to attempt legal custody of the children? The layers of community involved in this “marriage compact” also stretches back and forward through generations. Think of aspects of inheritance, of both culture and assets.

    The major difference between ordinary universal traditional marriage and the fake-marriage contracts for couples who are inherently infertile is just that – no family can possibly result from a weird-sex couple without the essential involvement of state legislation and regulations, and others taking on the insemination duty as either voluntary contributors or medical specialists. It’s a situation where no new life can come into existence through an intimate act of love.


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  7. I used to think the state should just get the hell out of marriage;

    The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages – why these three? Registration doesn’t cause the birth or the death – it acknowledges and documents the occurrence of a natural event that alters the demographic fabric. Ditto for marriage, and even more so because it’s the institution that generates new generations of people for the society. Why isn’t marriage registered along with deeds of agreement or partnership contracts. Those types of contracts create relationships guided by legislated regulations. Regsitration of a marriage doesn’t create the marriage – it acknowledges the newly formed relationship between a family and its society.


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  8. By politicising it and turning it into a desperate freak show to justify homosexuality, the global political left has destroyed the institution of marriage.

    It now has no fanfare everyone recognises or any social authority marked by agreed guide posts; it is whatever you say it is and whatever you want it to be, consecrated by whoever you wish – a priest, your best friend, your pet dog.

    Leftism destroys everything it touches. It is the embodiment of human evil.


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  9. Births, deaths, marriages and every derivative arriving thereto or there from generate work for the keepers of the books.

    Contributors and readers here are well versed in the ways of grubments, resplendent with its umbilically attached civil service hell bent on self multiplication.
    The increase in the multitudes of sexes suddenly requiring attention should come as no real surprise.
    Think of all the subsequent clingons (therapists, doctors, clergy) from every discipline and from every nook and cranny in society ….. all deriving a dollar from those original expansions of xx and xy.

    How bare would the offices of center link be if society was only responsible for those with…… genuine genes. The mind boggles….. though the scenario gets real diabolical if one is to consider as to which side of the centrelink desks stand the largest numbers of dependents.


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  10. but the point both make is that marriage just is that relationship which produces children and therefore certain obligations follow from that end. That is all we need to know and care about as a matter of policy.

    well yes.. but I’d like to think that the State’s recognition of marriage enforces some extra level of enforcement of those obligations to the child; as indeed it does, through mechanisms like child support, divorce settlement etc.

    That the state has removed marriage as a trigger to those obligations (defacto relationships) is another matter.


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  11. So what do classical liberals now say about marriage?

    What follows is what a liberal would say about marriage, not what a classical liberal would.


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  12. During a discussion about gay marriage with a friend I referred to it as a “Low-Diversity Marriage.” I could literally see his brain-freeze.


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  13. Marriage has never been a union between two people. It’s a type of compact between the two people as a newly formed entity on one hand and their community on the other, where “community” is a generic term with layers like an onion. The term “in-laws”, where blood relatives gain various rights thought to be both natural and legal, shows marriage isn’t a contract between just the two people.

    Katzenjammer, marriage is that union between two people that also joins the families of the spouses. But we don’t think the father-in-law and the like have the same marital rights and obligations as the either of the spouses. So, no, it is a union of two people, because you can marry even though you parents may now be deceased, but where they are still living, they are certainly a part of union.


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  14. well yes.. but I’d like to think that the State’s recognition of marriage enforces some extra level of enforcement of those obligations to the child; as indeed it does, through mechanisms like child support, divorce settlement etc.

    That is why I say that when we think of marriage as a matter of policy we should always have in mind its principal end of producing and rearing children.


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  15. What follows is what a liberal would say about marriage, not what a classical liberal would.

    But it is what a classical liberal now would say . The difference between classical liberalism then and now is not the latter’s departure from classical liberalism per se, it is the disappearance of a Christian background that informed Locke’s thought re marriage as well as the playing of out the classical liberal’s rejection of philosophical realism. Locke still talked about ends but even in him they were only ghosts of a metaphysics he and other classical liberals had already rejected.


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  16. But it is what a classical liberal now would say .

    No, it manifestly isn’t, even if you could find a contemporary classical liberal.

    A classical liberal, for all the limitations of that position, is not a mis-educated, middle class, po-mo relativist. The latter is the fag end of liberalism.


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  17. “I used to think the state should just get the hell out of marriage”

    I still do.
    They shouldn’t have “enabled” gay marriage, they should have said:

    ‘Marriage is for the church to decide, not us. We only care for civil unions. Therefore, all forms, statute legislation etc will now say “Civil Union status” instead of “Marital Status” (or from this date be deemed to where the change has not yet been made), and all those previously recognised as “Married” will automatically be defined as in a civil union. The government cares only that two citizens who have reached their majority have decided to enter into a civil union, not what sex/gender such citizens may be. If citizens would like to arrange for a church based marriage, that is an affair between them and the church, but other than the previously mentioned “grandfathering”, such is not recognised by the government, we only recognise the civil union document.’

    This would have allowed for “equality” without re-defining commonly used language, and would not “force” churches to marry anyone – a marriage ceremony could still be planned for as previously, it’s just that the formal signing would have different words on the signed papers.
    Most work places had already moved from “boyfriend/girlfriend” or “husband/wife” to “partner” anyway, which covers de-facto as well as formal marriage and is non-discriminatory in terms of LGB+, so the above would have essentially created the same thing for formal government documentation and law.


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  18. ‘Marriage is for the church to decide, not us. We only care for civil unions. Therefore, all forms, statute legislation etc will now say “Civil Union status” instead of “Marital Status” (or from this date be deemed to where the change has not yet been made), and all those previously recognised as “Married” will automatically be defined as in a civil union.

    This is no solution at all. What you’ve done is rename marriage ‘civil unions’ and given everything over to the state to define as they please. It gives the appearance of saving marriage, but destroys it. Further, why would or should a government care about a ‘civil union’ between two men? five men? two women? whatever? What public interest is it of the government to regulate the mutual care and support of such an arrangement? If no children can naturally arise from the arrangement there is no public good that gives rise to a public interest.

    Moreover, why try to placate a side that has abandoned reason and nature? Seriously, this is the political problem of classical liberalism. It is always negotiating with nihilists, always trying to met them half -way, when there is no half-way with nothing. Just nothing.


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  19. That is why I say that when we think of marriage as a matter of policy we should always have in mind its principal end of producing and rearing children.

    agreed.

    What you’ve done is rename marriage ‘civil unions’ and given everything over to the state to define as they please. It gives the appearance of saving marriage, but destroys it. Further, why would or should a government care about a ‘civil union’ between two men? five men? two women? whatever? What public interest is it of the government to regulate the mutual care and support of such an arrangement? If no children can naturally arise from the arrangement there is no public good that gives rise to a public interest.

    yes/no.

    In this modern reality of adoption and gay couples with children (whatever you may think of that), I think there is value in recognising parents with the bond of civil union / marriage.

    I think you’ll find the adoption practice (if not laws) recognise the value of marriage in determining the eligibility of couples to adopt.


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  20. But we don’t think the father-in-law and the like have the same marital rights and obligations as the either of the spouses

    I don’t believe anything in my note says they have the same rights. The rest of your response is in agreement with my view, that a mariage is not a simple contract of some sort between just the two people – that it has brings implications for various associates into the realm of their marriage.

    My bottom line – Marriage is a compact between a couple as a single entity and their “community”. It’s not some form of contract that only involves the two individuals.


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  21. “This is no solution at all.”
    It is no different in outcome than the change they DID make – allowing “marriage” between two men or two women. And THAT change changed the meaning of the word “marriage” as well!

    “Whatever you’ve done is rename marriage ‘civil unions’ and given everything over to the state to define as they please.”
    They ALREADY had “civil union” and such people as were in one had the same rights as married people.

    The entire point of my suggestion was that doing it that way would have prevented the change of definition of the word “marriage” – it would have made NO difference in the legalities of the situation, nor would it have “destroyed” marriage: people could still make the same commitments before God, family and friends at their local church as they had before, it’s just that the “official” paperwork they needed to sign would have had changed words; it would have prevented any claims of “discrimination” before the law by LGBT+ people, and would have prevented those people “demanding” that such equality REQUIRED the church to bow to their desire to be married.

    What actually happened (allowing men to marry men and women to marry women) is what actually DID “destroy” the word “marriage” – the very thing you are complaining about in my suggestion has already happened! – and furthermore it put the church in a position of being liable for discrimination for refusing to marry people.

    “If no children can naturally arise from the arrangement…”
    Right or wrong, LBGT+ people were ALREADY allowed to adopt and/or foster children, so that argument falls flat.

    Everything that you use to argue against what I said was ALREADY allowed by law – they wanted the change so everyone had the same nomenclature, or so they said. If it was done my way, at least we would not have destroyed the meaning of the word “marriage”, but otherwise the outcome would have been the same. In other words, rather than letting them change the meaning of a word to gain their “equality”, we would have simply changed the law so that what was specific to straight people was removed in favour of what was already allowed for both straight and LGBT+ couples.

    I think the whole thing was and is a storm in a teacup anyway – if you are LGBT+, you are in a significant minority of less than about 3% of the population, most of those people do NOT want to get “married” anyway, and frankly you should expect SOME difficulties to arise because of your minority status. Certainly you should expect equality before the law regardless of why you are a minority, but complaining that you can’t use a well defined word and wanting to the rest of us to change the usage of that word to suit you – even though it makes NO difference to you at law or in dealing with Government – is unrealistic and should never have been caved in to. That is why I suggested removal of the word “marriage” from legal and official government paperwork would have been a better result.


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  22. In this modern reality of adoption and gay couples with children (whatever you may think of that), I think there is value in recognising parents with the bond of civil union / marriage.

    Not at all. Gay couples should not have been allowed to adopt. Allowing it only excused redefining marriage and creating ersatz marriage ‘civil unions’ as simply dealing with ‘modern realities’. This is how seemingly unrelated concessions have consequences.

    I think you’ll find the adoption practice (if not laws) recognise the value of marriage in determining the eligibility of couples to adopt.

    In an actual marriage, yes.


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  23. “Not at all. Gay couples should not have been allowed to adopt. Allowing it only excused redefining marriage and creating ersatz marriage ‘civil unions’ as simply dealing with ‘modern realities’. This is how seemingly unrelated concessions have consequences.”

    Some of this at least stemmed from case law, which itself came from the statute laws regarding discrimination.
    I am not convinced that gay couples should be allowed to adopt either, but certainly that would mean a lesbian could get pregnant and have kids with her partner, but the “equivalent” men could not. That doesn’t seem right to me in terms of LEGAL requirements, so what do you do?


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  24. It is no different in outcome than the change they DID make – allowing “marriage” between two men or two women.

    Which proved again my broader point re liberalism.

    nor would it have “destroyed” marriage: people could still make the same commitments before God, family and friends at their local church as they had before, it’s just that the “official” paperwork they needed to sign would have had changed words

    Where was this in any of the part of the definition given by Locke or Cronin? You are stuck on something they or I were not principally concerned about, and thinking, if we just give so and so this they will not really care how marriage is understood culturally, politically, or legally. It’s like thinking, we’ll allow Dover and so and so to still call men and women, men and women in their own spaces, but culturally, politically, and legally, men and women will simply mean whatever this or that person thinks it means and ‘assigns’ to themselves.

    Again, this just illustrates what I’m saying about classical liberalism.


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  25. I am not convinced that gay couples should be allowed to adopt either, but certainly that would mean a lesbian could get pregnant and have kids with her partner,

    Lesbians cannot have kids with their partner. They are no different to gays re this fact.


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  26. Lesbians cannot have kids with their partner. They are no different to gays re this fact.

    define ‘with’. Its amazing what you can do with a turkey baster.

    .. and then throw in the confusion of surrogacy, and gay (males) are back in the mix.

    This is how seemingly unrelated concessions have consequences.

    indeed.


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  27. define ‘with’. Its amazing what you can do with a turkey baster.

    That’s where your equivocating. The fact that a lesbian can have a one night stand with a man, procure IVF, etc. doesn’t mean they are having a child with their lesbian partner.

    .. and then throw in the confusion of surrogacy, and gay (males) are back in the mix.

    That is not a problem for the standard view of marriage. They are complications brought by liberals who conceded surrogacy, and the like, based upon the view that we cannot interfere with what X or Y are up to.

    And, again, on this view, a male that has had surgery and no longer has his tackle, and is being medicated with hormones, acts and dresses like a woman is now a woman. There is nothing within liberalism that resists this view, on the contrary, at each point it invites state recognition of it.


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  28. and then throw in the confusion of surrogacy, and gay (males) are back in the mix.

    Adoption, surrogacy, artificial insemination are accepted as proxies or replacement for ordinary natural childbirth. But for the matching of sexes that are inherrently biologically incapable of generating children – where these “replacement” methods are the exclusive way of forming a family – that’s a totally different

    Read the Marriage Act. Adopted children brought up in the one family are not permitted to be married to each other or to any other children of the couple. That’s not due to incest, but mimicks regulations against incest. It’s an indication that adoption is regarded as a proxy for natural born children of the couple.


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  29. “They are complications brought by liberals who conceded surrogacy, and the like, based upon the view that we cannot interfere with what X or Y are up to.”

    I am OK with the libertarian view of “you do you, and leave me alone” – if that means “don’t interfere”, at least to the point of “while it doesn’t affect me”, then I’m good with it.
    It’s something we need to watch, as there tends to be “creep” – and maybe this has crossed your line. That’s fair enough.

    Freedom matters – you are just as free to wear a dress as you are to be an idiot.
    (not saying you are being an idiot or want to wear a dress, just pointing out that some people are and do)

    Where it DOES affect me (or others not the one “doing”), then I take issue.

    Hence my view with which you obviously disagree – don’t change the meaning of words, change the law to be “inclusive” if that is what the majority feel is appropriate. Would a plebiscite have agreed with my changes? Dunno, it was never asked, was it? But they did agree to allow “gay marriage”, and that’s what we got. I didn’t create the rules, I’m just trying to live with them and sort them out.

    Just to be clear, I am not talking about any MORAL stand here, I am talking about LEGALITIES, and how Government should treat citizens. If you are not doing anything illegal, government has no business sticking its beak into what you are doing or saying – period. It’s a VERY slippery slope to say that Government should interfere in things that aren’t illegal, which appears to be what you are suggesting. If, as seems to be the case, LGB+ people can legally “marry” and adopt kids and you don’t think that’s appropriate, then sorry but I think you lost that battle when “gay marriage” was allowed, if not before.

    I tend to agree with that sentiment FYI – I think it’s pretty clear that a parent of each sex as part of a household raising children tends to create well balanced kids more often than any other type of arrangement. For whatever reason, the law does not recognise this and put appropriate restrictions in place. And that is to societies detriment, IMO. But it is the way the law is written, most likely because it is not iron-clad and only a tendency. To change it will require a lot of work – and likely not a few mal-adjusted children and eventually adults. Either that, or a dictator. I’m not “good” with a dictatorship though…


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  30. I am OK with the libertarian view of “you do you, and leave me alone” – if that means “don’t interfere”, at least to the point of “while it doesn’t affect me”, then I’m good with it.
    It’s something we need to watch, as there tends to be “creep” – and maybe this has crossed your line. That’s fair enough.
    Freedom matters – you are just as free to wear a dress as you are to be an idiot.
    (not saying you are being an idiot or want to wear a dress, just pointing out that some people are and do)
    Where it DOES affect me (or others not the one “doing”), then I take issue.

    That as political strategy has been a disaster. You are constantly ceding ground, pretending that the ceding will never finally bite you on the arse, until it does, and then once it does, you take issue to no effect because what you’ve conceded leaves you no where to maneuver.

    Hence my view with which you obviously disagree – don’t change the meaning of words, change the law to be “inclusive” if that is what the majority feel is appropriate. Would a plebiscite have agreed with my changes? Dunno, it was never asked, was it? But they did agree to allow “gay marriage”, and that’s what we got. I didn’t create the rules, I’m just trying to live with them and sort them out.

    But changing the law to be ‘inclusive’ did change the meaning of the term as far as law and policy was concerned.

    Just to be clear, I am not talking about any MORAL stand here, I am talking about LEGALITIES, and how Government should treat citizens. If you are not doing anything illegal, government has no business sticking its beak into what you are doing or saying – period. It’s a VERY slippery slope to say that Government should interfere in things that aren’t illegal, which appears to be what you are suggesting. If, as seems to be the case, LGB+ people can legally “marry” and adopt kids and you don’t think that’s appropriate, then sorry but I think you lost that battle when “gay marriage” was allowed, if not before.

    Your saying that I cannot either prevent gay couples from adopting or ‘marrying’. On what grounds? Grounds of legality? If a relationship between gays wasn’t considered marriage before 2015(?) how is that interfering in things that are not illegal? And how is preventing people unrelated to the adoptee who are not married from adopting interfering in things that are not illegal? And how is the government taking an interest in who adopts or what constitutes marriage ‘interfering’? It seems to me that the only grounds against doing so are moral.


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