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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wealthy GOP (Libertarian) Donors Backing Same-Sex Marriage

A couple of weeks ago, a NY Times article reported that wealthy Republican Party donors were among the biggest contributors to the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in New York ("Donors to G.O.P. Are Backing Gay Marriage Push"). Indeed, Republican donors have given more than have Democrat to the campaign. This appears to have struck the NY Times reporter as surprising as it no doubt did many NY Times readers.

However, most of these donors are libertarians, whose beliefs are captured by the remarks of one of the donors, Clifford S Asness: “I’m a pretty straight-down-the-line small-government guy... This is an issue of basic freedom.” As I noted in an earlier post ("What Do We Mean By Justice?"), libertarians believe in limited government. They favor free markets and oppose most government regulation. They contend that each of us has a fundamental right to do whatever we want with the things we own as long as we respect the rights of others to do exactly the same thing. Thus, they tend to oppose (a) paternalistic legislation -- that is, laws that protect people from themselves (e.g., seatbelt laws), (b) moral legislation -- laws that promote virtue or express the moral convictions of the majority (e.g., pro-life anti-gay rights legislation), and (c) economic legislation that redistributes income and/or wealth (e.g., income taxes used to help the poor in some respect). 

That is why that while libertarians often support Republican candidates, they support them because of their economic policies, not their social ones, and are not the least bit shy about throwing their weight (and their money) behind causes that they believe promote individual freedom, like legalizing same-sex marriage and abortion rights. (Note: I've met a lot of folks who claim to be libertarians, but when pushed they really only want the government to keeps its hands off the economy but have no problem with the government passing legislation to limit abortion rights and keep marriage between a man and a woman.)

My sense is that libertarians are more likely to support such causes at the state rather than the federal level (i.e., they'll support state legislation, but not necessarily federal legislation, to legalize abortion) because individual state governments are small compared to the federal government. Unfortunately, this can play into the hands of "states rights" arguments, which are sometimes used to justify policies that limit, rather than promote, human freedom (e.g., states rights arguments were used to oppose the federal government's support of civil rights during the 1960s).

Regardless of what one thinks of the libertarian philosophy, one has to admit that libertarians are remarkably consistent in their logic, which is more than I can say for the moral philosophy of a lot of folks, who seem to shoot more from the hip when it comes to ethical reflection than thinking through the logic and implications of the positions they often take.

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