Monday, April 6, 2015

Refuting the Young Turks on Rand Paul and behavioral rights

I found this video tonight and thought I'd refute it real fast. Similar illogic can be found in this article on MSNBC.

The video should be called "The Young Turks' dumb reasons for thinking Rand Paul is a discriminatory hypocrite." Unlike Paul, I totally and unequivocally support gay marriage, but I'm also intellectually honest enough to recognize that belief in equal rights for all is not mutually contradictory with opposition to gay marriage. It depends on your conception of equality. Technically, traditionalists are giving everyone the same rights: everyone, gay or straight, has the opportunity to obtain the same set of legal benefits and privileges should they marry someone of the opposite sex. That this offer does not appeal to gay people, and is clearly designed to benefit one group over another, does not change the equality of the treatment which the state metes out.

The hosts obfuscate different sorts of behavioral "rights" here: the right to do as you please, and the right to get special perks and benefits at the state's discretion. Free speech and owning guns are things people can do without any state help whatsoever; having a right to those activities means only that states cannot interfere with wholly private practices. Rand Paul is indeed one of the most prominent defenders for this sort of "behavioral rights", which he just calls individual liberty and applies equally to everyone. Marriage, on the other hand, whether it's gay or straight, is not a private but a public institution. It has not always been this way, and maybe it shouldn't be, but for the time being it is: married couples get tax breaks and other benefits from the state upon entering into a public, contractual legal arrangement. What Paul is saying is not that the private behavior of cohabitating with someone of the same sex should be illegal - that is a behavior he concedes everyone has a right to do - but that the request for public benefits in exchange for this behavior should be declined.

It would be fair to call Paul a hypocrite for supporting any state establishment of marriage at all, which after all is a series of special privileges bestowed upon those who engage in the behavior of heterosexual marriage. But then the hosts would likely be hypocrites too, because libertarians are pretty much the only people who are consistent on that issue.

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