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Do Libertarians Really Threaten LGBT Rights? I Don't Think So

03/26/2013 08:15 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

If I were to debunk Christianity by writing about the absurdity of "temple garments," the lack of evidence that Jesus visited America, or baptism for the dead, it would become immediately clear that I have confused one unique Christian sect for the entire religion. That is what Maya Rupert does in her critique of libertarianism and equality of rights for the LGBT community.

The first sign she is jumping into waters that she doesn't know very well is when she uses conservatives to introduce the topic. She mentions a "libertarian strand in the conservative movement." There is one, of course, just as there is also a libertarian strand in the progressive movement. All that means, however, is they have some libertarian ideas. But who doesn't? Certainly, only the most rabid authoritarian lacks a libertarian strand somewhere in his thinking. Identifying a libertarian strand is not the same thing as identifying libertarianism.

Rupert makes the broad claim that libertarianism is "based on a premise that is fundamentally at odds with equality for the LGBT community." She doesn't define what she means by equality -- as Amartya Sen notes, there are many different versions of equality.

Rupert goes on to then equate the idea of limiting government to "the absence of government. She writes:

Libertarianism tells us that freedom is the ultimate good and that it should be maximized, so in order to accomplish that, we must limit government intervention, which restricts free action. Here's the problem with that premise: Freedom isn't simply the absence of government. It's the absence of any force stopping people from doing what they have a right to do. If we take away government, we aren't left with freedom; we're left with anarchy.

Instead of discussing the "limited government" tradition of classical liberalism, or libertarianism, she discusses anarchism -- a bit of bait-and-switch. Even then she doesn't use the term in the philosophical sense, but in a manner that distorts even what most anarchists mean. Contrary to what she might expect, she argues along the lines of the most prominent libertarians of the last century -- very, very few of whom were anarchists. I would note that individuals such as Mises, Hayek, Rand, Nozick, Friedman, Lane, Patterson, Epstein, Buchanan and others were NOT anarchists. Neither are most contemporary libertarians, including myself.

Rupert's critique of anarchism is then a libertarian critique of anarchism, even if she thinks she is critiquing libertarianism in general. In fact, Rupert channels Ayn Rand -- as much as that may horrify both of them. Rand wrote

...a society without an organized government would be at the mercy of the first criminal who came along and who would precipitate it into the chaos of gang warfare. But the possibility of human immorality is not the only objection to anarchy: even a society whose every member were fully rational and faultlessly moral, could not function in a state of anarchy; it is the need of objective laws and of an arbiter for honest disagreements among men that necessitates the establishment of a government.

Rupert wrongly claims "the libertarian premise" is "that without government intervention everyone would be free to do what they want..." No! Major libertarian thinkers for the last couple of centuries have always said that liberty is NOT absolute, but restricted by the equal rights of others. They rejected the very claim that Rupert makes about libertarianism. As Herbert Spencer put it in 1851, "each has freedom to do all that he wills provide that he infringes NOT the equal freedom of any other." Again, Rand made the same limitations clear over a century later: "Under a proper social system, a private individual is legally free to take any action he pleases (so long as he does not violate the rights of others)..."

Ms. Rupert tells us the "newly anointed standard bearer of the libertarian movement" is Rand Paul. Anointed by whom? Senator Paul may have some libertarian tendencies, (as would Barney Frank, George McGovern and Ronald Reagan), but those alone do not a libertarian make. There is no Central Committee anointing who is, or isn't, libertarian. We can only judge in the broader philosophical tradition. Paul, as do the others I mentioned, has some libertarian tendencies, but he also takes some very unlibertarian positions. It may shock Ms. Rupert to discover this, but just as in the gay community, there is NO anointed spokesperson. If there were, why pick a sitting Republican as opposed to the Libertarian Party candidate, Gov. Gary Johnson?

I suggest it was just convenient for Ms. Rupert to pick a social conservative, with some libertarian tendencies, as opposed to someone who is more consistently libertarian. She next attempts to saddle all libertarians with Paul's view on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I, as do many libertarians -- including some prominent libertarian law professors--happen to think that legislation was an absolute necessity given the circumstances and far better, in respect to both rights and liberty, than the status quo at the time.

Rupert closes by claiming that Paul (and presumably libertarianism) promotes a "no-government philosophy." Mr. Paul happens to believe in government, and often the wrong kind, from a libertarian perspective. There are libertarians who are anarchists, but I don't believe they represent the bulk of libertarians, neither today nor historically.

It would also do Ms. Rupert some good to consider where the LGBT community had to concentrate their fight for the last century. It was government sodomy laws that made our existence a crime. Some of us wanted to limit government -- horrors! -- by repealing those laws.

It was the liquor authorities and government police agencies that raided the bars and clubs, harassed gays on the streets, carted them off to jail, or just beat them senseless. Some of us thought restricting government power to do that was a good idea.

It is the federal government that is deporting the spouses of gay American citizens. I'd like to see that power ended. It is government power that prevents gay and lesbian people from marrying in most states. I hope that Ms. Rupert wants to restrict that power as much as I do. And, if she does, I won't take that to mean she is some sort of raving anarchist threatening my well-being.