On December 13, 2022, recognition of gay marriage became the law of the land in the United States.
President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage, invalidating all laws that say otherwise.
The original decision was a narrow one: five judges voted in favor of same-sex unions and four against. That decision, though, in addition to some recent language in SCOTUS decisions, was enough to convince Congress to act.
The consensus of that five-justice majority was that the Fourteenth Amendment precludes the existence of laws that do not guarantee equal rights to U.S. citizens — which is exactly what happened under laws that restricted and otherwise governed marriage. The amendment stipulates that no state may “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The argument against the application of such a text in favor of same-sex unions was that the Constitution should be interpreted in the same way as it would have been by its writers, who likely wouldn’t have conceived of the freedom to marry people of the same sex.
However, as Justice Anthony Kennedy put it, “The generations that wrote and ratified the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of liberty in all its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a chapter protecting the right of all people to enjoy liberty while we discover what it means.”
But putting the legal discussion aside, let’s remember that there’s nothing more libertarian than fighting for marriage equality. In fact, the American Libertarian Party was the first to endorse that cause in the U.S., even from its inception in the early 1970s. It is worth noting the historical context: that endorsement was rendered at a time when presidential candidates, Democrats included, still referred to gay men as “queers” undeserving of amnesty at political rallies — and were applauded for it.
Now, it would be unfair to say that libertarians hold some kind of monopoly over the fight for marriage equality, but there is no denying the great contribution made by libertarian logic to this movement. Marriage is individual expression; it is not the faculty of anyone else to restrict it.
Moreover, the restriction of any freedom of expression should disgust any libertarian. Indeed, the majority of liberty-minded people would rather see government out of the wedlock business altogether, restoring this, the most sacred of commitments, to an expression of love between two people, not a public institution with its parameters set by people who have nothing to do with that relationship.
What happened this week, therefore, was not a victory for equality, as Barack Obama put it in 2015, but rather a victory for a loftier value, though one perhaps more difficult to define: freedom. Besides, ultimately, to do what you want with those you love is an expression of both.
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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.