Monday, May 25, 2009

Liberalism and Marriage

Robin Hanson posted his reasoning for why Libertarians tend towards conservatism. Andrew Gelman has some interesting criticism of Hanson, which I will be criticizing (hopefully, constructively).

Hanson argues:
Libertarians support gay marriage because individuals should be free to have whatever consenting relations they want. Liberals support gay marriage because they want us all to officially respect gays as much as straights; gay activists have earned their group more respect.
To which Gelman responds:
I think a more accurate statement would be, "Liberals support gay marriage because they don't think it's fair that straight people can marry and gays can't," or "Liberals support gay marriage because some gay people want to marry and they don't see why they shouldn't be
allowed to."
As I've written elsewhere, I think that whether one fundamentally holds to Thomas Malthus (there are too many people on the planet) or Julian Simon (people are the Ultimate Resource) colors one's views on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and gay marriage. I offer Gelman these statements: "Liberals support polygamist marriage because they don't think it's fair that straight and gay people can marry and polygamists can't" and "Liberals support polygamy because some gay, bi, and straight people want to marry and don't see why they should be limited to groups of two." I think bisexuals may pioneer the legalization of polygamy, but the big beneficiaries will be "religious" zealots that want to "be fruitful and multiply."

The point that I'm making is that the liberal arguments for gay marriage would also be made for polygamy except that liberals tend to want fewer people—their views are colored by their Malthusian fundamentals.

3 comments:

Left Coast Rebel said...

Well said......

SD Scientist said...

I don't think that liberal positions have anything to do with Malthusianism. There are numerous liberal government programs (Medicaid, S-CHIP, TANF) which effectively encourage poor people to have as many children as they want - the ultimate anti-Malthusianism.

There is no reason for liberals to oppose polygamy, but it's not an area of active public debate (yet). We might see this issue emerge 30 or 50 years from now.

Overall, the divide between liberals and conservatives is "doing things as our fathers used to" vs "doing things right". Our grandfathers disapproved of gay marriage, interracial marriage, and abortion. Today's liberals want to allow all three, because they believe that it is the right thing to do. Today's conservatives want to ban all three, because that's the way things were in 1950.

dsm said...

SD Scientist,

That's a fair point about government programs; however, liberals also support government funded/subsidized abortions. So, I would counter that a Malthusian world view biases them against bring more people into the world, but moral imperatives seasoned with a preference for big government (think health care, food stamps, etc.) and a desire to buy votes are greater motivations once people are born.

I also do not agree with your dichotomy: "as our fathers did" vs. "doing things right". I think it's more complicated than that. And I don't like your use of the word "right". It introduces a value judgment that I specifically avoided. You are implying--perhaps inadvertently--that the motives of conservatives are "not right". Different experiences and world views (Malthusian vs Julian Simon, Christian vs Muslim vs Atheist, Engineer vs Teacher vs Soldier, etc.) drive our individual judgments about what is right. Therefore, one goal of politics is to reach a consensus where the maximum number of people feel that a particular policy choice is "close enough" to their moral ideal.