Liberty! Well, Sorta…

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?

7 Replies to “Liberty! Well, Sorta…”

  1. A consistent libertarian analysis would find a glaring difference between charter schooling and gay marriage. Gay marriage rights do not make claims on other people’s property; public schooling does. Although the answer to both problems is the same: the state should have nothing to do with marriage or school.

  2. Here’s the difference – marriage, as sanctioned by the state, and public education are secular issues. As an atheist, I resent religious groups claiming the right to own marriage. And I don’t believe parochial schools should have access to public funds to indoctrinate children with religious beliefs. While I support charter schools, I think those who don’t are opposed due to financial issues – decreasing funds to traditional public schools. This isn’t an argument that can be made for marriage – it’s not a zero sum game.

  3. Your argument does not work for school choice. You may have a more suitable comparison for gay marriage with something like fully-funded preschool. In both cases, you are providing new opportunities for individuals that they did not have access to in the past. Many folks would consider access to both of these things as rights.

    School choice is less marriage and more divorce. You want to take shots at progressives for not embraching school choice and charter schools. What you fail to understand is that the majority of Americans want to see their public schools repaired not scrapped. They may check out the cute little blonde in the corner (what’s happening now charter school), but at the end of the day most choose to head home and make their marriage work. This is consistent with their values.

    Speaking of values– charter schools make neat idea factories for disgruntled Gen Xers, but they make for horrible football teams. You should spend less time thinking about gay marriage and more time reflecting on football–the real secret to school reform.

  4. I actually think the analogy is right on…

    But worse for would be supporters of same sex-marriage and opponents of school choice.

    Let’s see. Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that denying marriage rights isn’t discrimination because a gay man is entitled to marry any woman of his choice – the exact same right that a straight man has. Construed technically there is no discrimination here.

    The logical reply is that they gay man does not want the right to marry a woman, but instead the right to marry the person of his choice – the person that he loves.

    Well let’s go to the public school system. A low-income parent in Washington D.C., has the same rights as a wealthy parent in D.C. to send their kids to one of D.C.’s awful public schools – however, the wealthy parent doesn’t want this right, so he or she bypasses it and moves into a wealthy community in Bethesda or puts the child in a private school. Both parents had the same *right* given by the state, but no one could argue that the de facto impact was to provide something less attractive an rather worthless (a crappy education) to the poor family.

  5. I believe the difference between the two has to do with the fact that preventing gay marriage is intentional discrimination, while preventing school choice is not. If you passed a law where only straight people received vouchers, then you’d have a more analogous situation, as well as a very ridiculous law.

    Take care,


  6. While I sympathize deeply with people who feel the weight of personal and financial bigotry via government institutions, this is exactly what we ask for when we vote for the two major parties — government that gives and takes rights and wealth according to popular or populist voting distributions. Being a “republic” was supposed to be a check on that problem…

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