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.