Declining to Wed Gay Couples: Right or Wrong?

News item: the Georgia governor has just vetoed a bill that would, among other things, have allowed ministers to decline to wed gay couples.

What a tangle. Let’s see if we can sort things out.

First of all, many decent people, your humble servant included, find the concept of “gay marriage” troubling. I believe any two adults (or three or more) should be free to make any contract they like regarding sharing assets, pledging fidelity, and so forth. I just wish they wouldn’t call it “marriage.” That term is taken.

Second, hate is not a crime. Some people express repugnance or hatred for homosexuality. Ayn Rand called the practice immoral, an attitude that is hard to fathom in this day and age but perhaps understandable given the tenor of her times. Some go farther and express hatred for homosexuals per se. But as long as these people refrain from initiating force or fraud, they should not be molested. Boycotts, shunning, and criticism are legitimate responses to such people, but forcible restraint is not.

Third, rights are not granted by governments. Rights derive from our basic nature as humans, as thinkers such as Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard have so eloquently demonstrated. Contractual “rights” should have a different name, perhaps “privileges.” These are actions that have been legitimized by a voluntary agreement. Thus for example, no one has free speech “rights” on a campus. Students may have free speech “privileges” on a campus if the owners of the campus have granted that privilege in a written or implied contract.

Fourth, freedom of association is a basic human right, and includes freedom of dissociation, whether in personal or business relations. Some years ago I posted a defense of the late Lester Maddox who famously attempted to exclude blacks from his chicken restaurant. My post generated considerable blowback, but I stand by it and note that in this day and age, anyone who tried to exclude blacks would not be elected governor of Georgia as Maddox was, but instead lose most of his customers and close his doors.

In summary, no minister needs permission from the state to deny wedding services to a gay couple. And religion has nothing to do with it. Anyone should free to decline business or personal relationships with anyone, for any reason whatever, or for no reason at all.

11 thoughts on “Declining to Wed Gay Couples: Right or Wrong?

  1. Would you also have wanted interracial couples to have their own, separate contract? Marriage was taken prior to the legalization of interracial marriage as well, to be a privilege only reserved to males and females of their own ethnic descendence. So, if a term being in previous use renders it inapplicable to societal change, it seems you should be concerned more with the politics before 1967 than with gay couples now.

    Other than that, what exactly would be the point in not assigning marriage certifications, but an equally legitimate certification to gay and bisexual couples? I would really like to understand why precisely you’re in favor of allowing couples to make legally binding commitments that intensively provide the exact same characteristics of marriage, but are not in favor of the use of the word “marriage.”

    In addition, “privileges” are more like social advantages. Non-legal. Some rights do come from our basic nature, as in natural rights, but positive rights are granted by the government through democratic majority. Plenty of students do have the right to free speech, this is their positive right granted by Constitutional or educational legislature, and the right is as legitimate as a natural right in the context of the state. You go on to say “freedom of association is a basic human right,” but the word basic is jumbled here: freedom of association is actually a positive right, and so is gay marriage, so both would have to be equally legitimate.

    Sure, individuals should be able to deny business or personal relationships of their own autonomy. This is actually an inherently religious debate, however, and your line of reasoning values the ministers’ (under the wing of religious institutions) autonomy far more than the couple seeking marriage’s autonomy, since you’ve made no discussion of the fact that marriage has to be legally ordained and is outside of the couples’ hands. You’ve ended up valuing the church’s will over the individual’s, which is an ugly conclusion. And what follows is the creation of second-class citizens nationally. You might say, the couple could just leave to be married elsewhere. You would have them search, through obstacles, for a willing minister, which in Georgia, I speculate, would be difficult. And so business, and government privileges, become easily available only for a specific class of citizens (namely, men and women, and specifically for you, by your logic, white men and women or black men and women), and much more difficult to attain for the gay and lesbian community. You’ve created second-class citizens.

    • A measured response to a measured comment on a difficult issue.

    • Marriage has, since time immemorial, stood for an arrangement that is central to the propagation of the species. I’m just sorry to see that term misappropriated for a very different purpose. But I concede that battle is lost.

      Rights can never be granted by government. The waste paper that politicians turn out, called legislation, may uphold or violate rights but it can’t create them.

      Freedom of association is, like all genuine rights, a negative right. It means freedom from interference when choosing one’s associates.

      We have rights to take all sorts of actions, some of which others find quite repugnant. There can be no guarantee we will have an easy time finding people to assist us with our actions. As a practical matter, gays can easily find willing clergy these days, or get married in their local courthouse.

    • Yet again, there is difficulty accepting this second defense. Historically, marriage has equally been about power alliances than simple procreation – the concept of “procreation” as the cornerstone of matrimony is an archaic platitude. And in instances where procreation was the goal, marriage was initiated to ensure the child was biologically the father’s, confining the woman sexually and essentially debasing the human’s role as proprietary. This is hardly the arrangement that you think exists. Women have had an awful place in marriage politics, which is why the collapse of stereotypical gender roles is leading the push for gay marriage rights. And in practical terms, there are plenty of married heterosexual couples choosing not to procreate (and there has been for decades), and there are plenty of marriage-seeking homosexual couples choosing artificial insemination or surrogacy. The propagation of the species is not contingent on ceremonial vows; it happens with or without binding documents.

      This language – “marriage stands for something” – means any number of things across a different time period. Now, marriage stands for love, not procreation. It’s been that way for centuries. Gay people getting married now is hardly a huge change in the linguistic dynamic.

      If you try and come from a separate angle, and argue that the heterosexual marriage is exclusively necessary as a successful child-rearing construct, you’ll need quite an armada of research to back up that it is consistently more successful than child-rearing by gay couples. But in advance, my intuition and experience and studying tell me those results do not exist.

      You dismiss the entire notion of positive rights. That is fine – they are frequently necessary to extrapolate on natural rights, however, which are by nature far and few and non-defendable. We may not reach an agreement, probably just because I believe the liberty of the individual is more precious than the liberty of the collective religious right and its hefty political sway.

    • William Rein is convincing to me here that the term “marriage” is more flexible than commonly supposed, and doesn’t need to have a connection with biological procreation. Furthermore, in the next few decades it will likely be possible for two females, at least, to combine their genetic material and create a child. So that objection to “gay marriage” can’t last.

      That said, for the sake of freedom of religion and social peace, it seems very unwise to me to let any government force any clergyperson to perform any ceremony they find objectionable.

  2. Being Australian, I am unfamiliar with your different legal and social systems and comment further with due caution. However, where (as seems to be the case) the option of a civil contract (Courthouse or wherever) is available and has the exact same legal standing as a religiously endorsed contract, then it seems to me that William’s argument is unsustainable. A further caveat. I am an atheist. It also seems to me that a believer who somehow felt that a religious contract ‘endorsed’ by a clergyman acting under legal duress would somehow ‘put him/her right with god’ is especially deluded. William?

    I have zero prejudice against gay people, but am sympathetic to arguments that owners of businesses (wedding cakes, hairdressing, etc.) should not have to provide service for, say, a gay wedding. However, perhaps a line has to be drawn. Consider a large corporation that provides what amounts to a monopoly essential service in a remote location – eg, an airline; perhaps even a supermarket. Warren?

  3. I want to thank William Rein for some well written replies to what I consider repugnant opinions.

  4. Thought I’d share, since this was just published yesterday:

    New longitudinal study shows that there are no differences in the mental health of a child when raised by same-sex or different-sex parenting. In fact, there are no discernable differences for the child at all.

    I know this is distinct from the point of the article, but maybe you’ll find it enlightening.

Please keep it civil

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