On this day 15 years ago, Belgium became the second country to allow same-sex marriages. A historic step for a small European country which is historically Catholic. Yet just as the Netherlands which had become the first country to provide equal access to marriage, Belgium adopted sort of a “no big deal” attitude towards people of the same sex getting married, just as much as we do today. It was a big deal back then, and despite Europe being the continent that leads the way on this issue, numerous legislative changes were only adopted recently, including Germany, where it only became legal last year.
The issue of gay marriage ties into the overall principle of acceptance of the LGBT community (you’ll excuse me for not using any of the letters that have been added to that acronym later on). Here are some interesting numbers:
Legalization of same-sex sexual activity:
- United Kingdom (England and Wales since 1967)
- Germany (as West Germany since 1969)
- Austria (1971)
- Norway (1972)
- Estonia (1992)
- Albania (1995)
- Cyprus (1998)
- Georgia (2000)
- Armenia (2003).
In Belgium, France, Luxembourg and a handful of Swiss cantons it has been legal since the end of the 18th century. You’ll also be amused to read that, as a part of Italy, the Vatican has legalised same-sex sexual activity since the year 1890.
Russian monarchists and the Bolsheviks had indeed things in common
Another curious case is Poland, where no laws against sexual encounters with a member of the same sex has ever been on the books (but we’ll probably put this on the “Poland has a bumpy history anyway, so that probably wasn’t a priority legal action”). Russia on the other hand had taken the “I hate fags but I watch lesbian porn” to its full legislative potential: it has been legal for men since 1993, while women were never banned in the first place. Turns out that Russian monarchists and the Bolsheviks had indeed things in common.
When it comes to legal unions, we’re not quite there yet: a number of countries allow for civil union, yet same-sex marriage is, as of today only legal in
- the Netherlands,
- New Zealand,
- South Africa,
- the United Kingdom,
- the United States
- and Uruguay.
Let’s not be too greedy though, we still need to give Belarus some time to figure out how to abolish the death penalty and Italy still needs to wrap its head around fiscal discipline. Priorities.
The government shouldn’t be in the business of marriage at all
This anniversary also marks a good opportunity to remind people of the libertarian position on same-sex marriage, because there are still people that are confused about the pro-liberty answer on this issue.
Libertarians believe that the government shouldn’t be in the business of marriage at all. Marriage is either a contract or a spiritual or religious ceremony, in which no bureaucrats should be involved. In fact, getting government out of marriage would mean that A) consenting individuals can contract an agreement in whichever way they prefer, which would take the burden of some rigid marriage laws out of the equation and B) would also mean that religious groups are free to choose whether or not to marry people. Putting the absence of marriage equally on the same shelf as abusive discrimination has brought up the idea that organisation such as the Catholic church should be compelled to perform these marriages. However, if you make the argument that it is your life and therefore you decide whom to marry, then you need to understand the argument that it also isn’t your church. If your current faith doesn’t allow for same-sex marriage, I’m sure there’s competition somewhere that will be willing to cater to you.
Contracting with whomever you like
This libertarian argument shouldn’t be stampeded as a silly thought experiment, because the importance of this position goes beyond the freedom of contracting with whomever you like. If we were to adopt the position that government should never meddle into interpersonal contractual agreements, then it would protect individuals from governments that could reverse laws and ban these contracts. When you say “Yes, François Hollande legalised same-sex marriage!” you need to think about what you can do that president Marine Le Pen cannot reverse it.
Limited government isn’t a mere concept that protects people from being overtaxed, because it’s a considerably more far-reaching idea of distrust of power.
Form a pro-liberty perspective there is still much to do.