Gay marriage is on the political agenda. One suspects that the political debate is not going to reflect well on its participants.
Leaving aside the politics of the issue, I do find it curious that a segment of the community actually seeks more government regulation in a bid for freedom, equating government regulation with some sense of communal recognition and self fulfilment. Whenever one confuses self-identity with government regulation, sub-optimal outcomes are likely.
As a libertarian, I would propose a broader policy solution.
There are, to my mind, 2 related issues that are often mixed together under the ‘marriage’ banner. Each can be solved separately.
The first is how parents must take responsibility for their children: custody, access rights and child support being the most crude and visible elements. That policy should, and does, apply to parents regardless of their marital status, gender and sexuality, and has as its intent the protection of the rights of children and the establishment of a framework to enforce personal responsibilities to one’s children. Government intervention and regulation is justified in this area because some parties to the relationship are, by definition, minors.
The second is the legal framework relating to ‘unions’ or permanent relationships. This body of law covers property rights, spousal maintenance, property settlements following the dissolution of the relationship and recognition as the next of kin. Most importantly it is the mechanism by which two parties agree that they are united, and that the state should deal with them as such.
This second area is a matter that is contractually established between consenting adults. Whether people are gay, straight, in a de facto relationship, married by a church etc is essentially irrelevant. The proper role of government is to provide a framework for people to enter into such a contractual relationship. Entering into that relationship would confer on each other the rights traditionally associated with marriage (property rights, next of kin etc), and also the responsibilities that go with it (obligation to support the other, changes in welfare benefits calculations etc).
After all, what role should government have in regulating the affairs of consenting adults? In fact, why should government have any regulation of marriage at all? At its heart, a family is important because it defines where government may not go. It follows that it is invalid for the state to have any role in defining what a family is. How people want to define their families, or where or how they celebrate such a union, is up to the individual and any belief structures they happen to believe in.
I propose that instead of defining marriage to include gay marriages, we should remove the references to marriage from government regulation. Let consenting adults define their own relationship and have the bureaucracy respect that relationship. As a separate issue, continue to regulate the challenges related to shared parenting.
Getting government out of the marriage business would create equality and do it in a way that respects the limited role of government in our free society. Seeking equality through government recognition is a hollow goal. The goal should instead be to reaffirm that the family unit, however we choose to define our own family relationships, is protected from government interference not defined by government regulation. Surely that is the true meaning of family.