Thanks to a New York Times Magazine article by Robert Draper, there’s been a lot of buzz lately about the libertarian tidal wave that’s allegedly poised to wash over the American landscape. Draper argues that young people are much more accepting of the libertarian get-rid-of-all-government argument and that Rand Paul is set to harness that energy all the way to the White House.
Except for this inconvenient fact: Polls show that young voters are the one segment of the population that actually favors more government and is most inclined to vote Democratic.
Draper does some fancy dancing around the topic of marriage equality, suggesting that support of it is somehow a sign of libertarian tendencies. In fact, there’s every reason to believe that the libertarian movement, at least as it is currently constituted, is not only not pro-gay, but actively hostile to LGBT issues. Here are six reasons that prove it.
1. Rand Paul. Let’s start with the standard-bearer for libertarianism, Sen. Rand Paul. Paul would have you believe that’s a moderate, when in fact he’s as homophobic as they come. He has repeatedly come out against marriage equality, going so far as to suggest that the Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA would open the way to marriage with animals. Paul told Draper that the GOP can’t “completely flip” on gay marriage. To which we say, why not? If you’re wrong, why wouldn’t you change? In Paul’s case, it’s because he doesn’t think opposition to marriage equality is wrong.
2. The role of the Christian right. The relationship between the religious right and the libertarian movement is tighter than you think. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage says that his group’s opposition to marriage equality “is actually a libertarian argument.” Anti-gay theocrats like David Barton exert great influence in the world of constitutional conservatives (a self-identification libertarians prefer). “To the extent it has a mass base, it’s likely as much or more among conservative Christian soldiers who despise government so long as they don’t control it as among dope-smoking free-loving free-thinking anti-interventionist Reason readers,” columnist Ed Kilgore notes perceptively. (Reason is the magazine published by the libertarian Cato Institute.)
3. A philosophy that is conveniently homophobic. A lot of libertarians object to the government recognizing your relationship on philosophical grounds. One of the most revealing moments in Draper’s article is an exchange with Mollie Z. Hemingway, a senior editor at The Federalist. Hemingway thinks that the government has to be in the marriage business because the heterosexual relationship is “ordered to producing children.” But the government shouldn’t extend those rights to same-sex couples. Hemingway thinks that those folks “should be free to organize their own lifestyle,” as if your committed relationship was the same as taking up RV-ing.
4. Less government = less protection. If you really want to get government out of the way, that means it should be less involved (if at all) in protecting workers against discrimination, people with HIV from untested treatments or shielding LGBT students from bullies. Amazingly, the vast majority of people espousing these views don’t happen to fall into any of these categories to explain to us why these protections are superfluous from the victim’s perspective.
5. Religious liberty. Here’s where the libertarian argument is most often employed to ill purpose. The argument: the government should allow people to serve whomever they want, without fear of legal restrictions. If bakers want to refuse to bake wedding cakes for gay couples, fine. What better way to protect your freedom to discriminate than by passing laws to do so. Of course, a true libertarian would argue that people should be able to do as they please, but that more law is exactly the wrong answer. But more commonly the religious liberty argument is used to unite conservative evangelicals and libertarians.
6. The funders are hypocrites. The Koch brothers (Charles and David) are the biggest funders of the libertarian movement. They help underwrite the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank, and have spent tens of millions of dollars promoting libertarian causes that happen to coincide with their financial interests (such as killing climate change legislation). David Koch has said “I believe in gay marriage.” Nowhere is that reflected in the candidates given money by the organizations with financial ties to the brothers. Instead, those organizations are donating to Tea Party groups or offering ad support for mouth-breathing House Republicans who will stop anything LGBT in its tracks. And then, of course, there’s Peter Thiel, the gay billionaire who funded presidential quest of Ron Paul, Rand’s even crazier father, a campaign which came with a long list of homophobic attendants.
Now, there is a spirited debate within the libertarian ranks as to many of these issues. Many libertarians are very supportive of the LGBT community and suspicious of the religious right. They are more interested getting government out of the way, whatever the consequences might be. But the libertarian movement that is capturing political attention today is much more a pick-and-choose type of philosophy: easy to agree with principles when they support what you want, and easy to discard them when they don’t.
In too many ways, it’s morphing into a different brand of anti-gay conservatism, when one is already far more than enough.