This election cycle it was disapointing to see another gay marriage ban pass, this time in California, because while religious denominations should be able to do what they want on this score I fail to see the compelling reason for the state not to recognize same-sex marriages. To me, it’s a basic issue of personal liberty and equality. And, among many of my peers I hear that same rationale — within reason and outside of harm to others –there should be parity here and like everyone else, gay and lesbian citizens should be able to do what they want in terms of their personal relationships.
Of course, that’s basically a libertarian argument but you hear it put forward by a lot of self-identified progressives concerning marriage equality. Yet many of these same people recoil at the idea of school choice, often even public charter schools. In these two cases, schools and marriage, is there some conflict here in confidently asserting greater self-determination for one class of people in the name of personal liberty while denying it for another?
Although marriage and schooling are not exactly alike, there are some similarities. With both there is a compelling state interest and also a question of freedom. Today, people have freedom to, outside of compulsory education of some sort, make a variety of educational choices. The Supreme Court settled that issue in 1925 and in 2002 it ruled that states could even finance religious educational choices under some circumstances. In terms of issues like home schooling, school choice, and parochial schools different states take different approaches to balancing public and private interests. In the case of marriage we’re having a national debate about exactly how states should approach the question of what should be recognized as a marriage by the state and where the public and private interests in marriage intersect.
The primary difference is that supporters of gay marriage are seeking a right to make a choice while in the case of school choice parents and advocates are seeking to have an existing right made more accessible through public finance of individual choices.
So, with that distinction in mind and assuming that with regard to both marriage and schooling the state can assert some regulatory authority to prevent truly adverse outcomes (for instance age limits with marriage, school choice plans with no accountability), then what are some other arguments from those who support greater freedom around marriage but not greater freedom around schooling? How does one square that circle especially in the case of school choice ideas like charter schools that when done right have accountability for important public purposes?