Dear gay marriage opponents - I have a deal for you
America as a whole is moving towards support of extended marriage rights to gay couples, but there is still a sizable majority that opposes this. While I find most of their arguments to be quite lacking, there is one that I have seen a lot that I can believe can be easily addressed by marriage rights proponents. This is the fear that if government were to recognize that gays have a right to marry, it would mean that churches and private groups would be forced to accept these unions and perform gay marriage ceremonies.
Leaving aside my strong disagreements with such discriminatory stances, I do believe in religious liberty and, in a broader sense, the ability of private organizations to determine their own rules. For instance, I fully support the right of Augusta National Golf Club to deny membership to women, even if I personally find that to be a sexist policy. With rare exception, a company or group should be able to do what it wants. If some find those rules objectionable, they have the right to not patronize that establishment.
Thus, if a government were to decide that, because gay marriage is legal, they should be able to force churches to marry gay couples, I would heartily defend that church. This is because, above any personal distaste I may have for such a stance, my higher belief is in liberty. As a libertarian I accept the idea that private actors will hold positions I find objectionable. As I see it, this is the cost of being free and able to live in a society where my personal views are respected. Especially as someone who is in a religious minority that is held in contempt by many, I understand that freedom of conscience is of paramount importance.
So here is my deal for gay marriage opponents. For your part, you need to accept that gays should be able to marry, even if you personally don’t think that is “marriage” in the eyes of God. You need to understand that while you see marriage one way, millions of others do not, and we’re best off in a society that leads to the most liberty for everyone. In return, here is my promise. I, and I believe many of my fellow libertarians, will steadfastly defend the right of churches and private groups to not perform these marriages. I will defend the right of private businesses to not cater or photograph gay weddings if they feel that strongly about it. It is my strong belief that the free market will inevitably prevail here, but I will firmly oppose any state action to force them to violate their conscience.
This, I believe, can remove the final barrier to support of gay marriage for many. If libertarians can make this promise to religious conservatives - that we will stand with them in defending their right to religious liberty - I believe we can coax those who sincerely base their opposition to marriage equality on this fear. Of course, many are using this as a cover, but I believe we are best off when we assume good faith from others. At the very least, this would take away one remaining plank in the opposition and help people realize that gay rights do not threaten them in any fashion.