The Washington Post

Is gay marriage really progressive?

Same-sex marriage advocates, and their lawyers, cite Jefferson’s “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” to underscore everyone’s right to marry without state interference. Last week, they successfully challenged Virginia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. Given current legal trends, there seems little doubt that the Supreme Court will ultimately agree with U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s ruling. Gay rights advocates believe this ruling is a major progressive advance.

We ask: Why is this progressive?

Or put another way: Why is giving the government more power over your personal life, as opposed to less, considered progressive?

Ironically, it may turn out that gay marriage advocates are trying to further cement a dangerous philosophical trend that they would normally see as conservative, retrogressive or even reactionary.

Gay marriage advocates believe the progressive position is to require every marriage to get the same governmental blessing. But this is actually not a progressive or liberating posture at all.

The right approach for those who believe in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” freed from government control is self-evident: no government control over marriage.

The same-sex marriage position requires first accepting the government’s right to sanction marriage. Moreover, advocates don’t merely agree to give government this power, they accept a state’s right to discriminate. The federal court decision overturning Virginia’s gay marriage ban is premised on the state failing to provide a sufficient reason for discriminating between couples wanting to get hitched. This presupposes the right of the government to sanction marriage. Ironically, this is the position of the supposedly conservative traditional marriage defenders.

While the Supreme Court has made other important rulings on marriage in the past, no jurist ever suggested disagreement with state laws banning same-sex marriage — until recently. Gay rights lawyers say such decisions were wrong, surely by today’s standards. We ask: What is progressive about conditioning the state’s right to sanction marriage on changeable judicial attitudes?

The more principled approach, which is consistent across the philosophical spectrum, is leaving marriage to the religious and family institutions from whence it came.

Marriage existed long before there were government bureaucrats looking to raise revenue by collecting license fees. If a person meets whatever common sense, minimal legal requirements are established for people to wed — such as those related to age, health, mental capacity or banning incest — why should government approval be required? If gay rights advocates truly believe marriage is a protected, inalienable right, then they should be in court arguing against state-sanctioned marriage per se.

What about the traditional marriage position – that defining these unions is up to the states and that states have a vested interest in promoting traditional families? It runs counter to the conservative belief in limited government. Same-sex couples are generally no better or worse at parenting than those with different sexual orientations. Limiting marriage on procreation grounds, even if legal, is a slippery slope that would trample the Constitution and personal liberties in a way worthy of China, not America.

Most important, a marriage license is derivative, not the basic right at issue. If the right to marry is inalienable, then the government needs to stop seeing it as another revenue raiser or privilege creator.

In practical effect, all same-sex marriage proponents are claiming is their inalienable right to be required to pay a marriage fee like everyone else.

Norman Leahy is an editor of the conservative Web site and producer of the political radio show “The Score.” Paul Goldman is a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. They are blogging together on All Opinions Are Local during Virginia’s 2014 General Assembly session.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
How to make Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cornbread
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
The signature dish of Charleston, S.C.
Play Videos
Why seasonal allergies make you miserable
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
What you need to know about filming the police
Play Videos
The Post taste tests Pizza Hut's new hot dog pizza
5 tips for using your thermostat
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
The signature drink of New Orleans
Next Story
Michael Larabee · February 19, 2014

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.