The libertarian argument against redefining marriage

I was reminded today of a tremendously important and compelling argument against redefining marriage—not from a Christian point of view, but a libertarian one. The case was made—cogently, I believe—by Jennifer Roback Morse last year.

She introduces her case this way…

As a libertarian myself, I have been quite disappointed that the “default” libertarian position on marriage has become little more than a sound-bite: “Let’s get the state out of the marriage business.” With all due respect, this position is unsound.

I will not be able to respond to this sound-bite with another sound-bite. The issues surrounding marriage are too deep. But I am not deterred from trying to persuade thoughtful readers who are up to the task of following a complex and unconventional argument wherever the search for truth may lead.

I make three points in this series of articles. First, in today’s article, I show that it is not possible to privatize marriage. Second, in tomorrow’s article, I show that the attempt to privatize marriage will not result in an increase in freedom, but will actually increase the role of the state. Finally, in the third article, I show that attempting to privatize marriage will perpetrate great injustices to children. Any of these reasons is sufficient to put an end to the “get the government out of the marriage business” mantra. All three of these reasons taken together form a compelling case for absolutely opposing the redefinition of marriage and for working tirelessly to create a robust cultural norm of one man, one woman, for life.


Any arguments about the State’s definition of marriage need to show why the State has any role at all in ordering or regulating marriage. She argues that the primary purpose for the State having any role in marriage is for the sake of children.

People may have many private reasons for getting married. But the public rationale for marriage is that it has been society’s primary institutional arrangement that defines parenthood.

If no children were ever involved, adult sexual relationships simply wouldn’t be any of the state’s business. What we now call marriage would be nothing more than a government registry of friendships.

But this is not just an argument about who might make better or worse parents. To see why, you’ll need to read all three articles.

HT: Justin Taylor for originally alerting me to her arguments.

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