06/20/2012 08:13 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Obsessed Conservative Equates Marriage to Male Breasts

American conservative writer Christopher Caldwell feebly tried to smack down a libertarian defense of marriage equality at the Financial Times. To do so, he used bad logic and simply lied.

He wrote gay marriage is "not a core issue of civil or human rights." The evidence for this is that past "great thinkers who devoted their lives to considering civil and human rights systematically" didn't bring it up. This, of course, restricts developing civil rights no further than some unspecified time in the past.

Under such a view, would woman's suffrage be a civil rights issue? Surely, until women started fighting for that right, there was little comment about it. Thomas Jefferson, a great thinker on issues of rights, didn't support women holding office or voting. He said: "The appointment of a woman to office is an innovation for which the public is not prepared, nor I." He argued that under a Republic, women should still be excluded from political deliberations "to prevent depravation of morals and ambiguity of issue" and "could not mix promiscuously in the public meetings of men."

There was a time when virtually no great thinker on human rights supported the end of slavery. Mr. Caldwell thinks that rights today are limited by opinions of the past, though he won't specify how far in the past. He mentions Frederick Douglass, but no one who lived earlier than Douglass. Given that Douglass died in 1895 perhaps that is the cut-off date for defining human rights. Of course, in 1895, segregation was widely accepted and even the Supreme Court, a body whose purpose includes the consideration of civil and human rights, upheld such views. Apparently, segregation would then be neither an issue of civil right nor human rights.

Nor are we enlightened as to whether this unspecified date of the past, which cuts off rights at the knees, is a fixed point in time or one relative to today. Are all rights to reform with a view held no later than in this mysterious year or will that cut up point advance one year as the rest of us do. In the latter case it would mean Mr. Caldwell is a rather moderate conservative as he would only be out of kilter with the current age by only a century or so. Well done, sir.

Sir Samuel Brittan, a columnist at the Financial Times of some fame, noted something Caldwell can't see: "Many of the classical ideas of nineteenth-century liberalism did not come on the statute book until the 1960s." Liberal capitalism "set in motion a train of events and ideas" that are still coming into existence.

F.A. Hayek wrote that individual freedom is unpredictable and the "conservative attitude" is defined as "fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such." Hayek argues that classical liberalism was inherently dynamic and "based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead." In other words, this great thinker on civil and human rights said the idea such rights are limited by what thinkers of the past thought, is inherently wrong. Elsewhere, I have argued that a Hayekian perspective is fully consistent marriage equality.

Caldwell declares that allowing gay people to marry is "enforcing approval" of gay people and thus "an expansion of censorship." This is one of those conservative arguments that baffle me. It seems to argue that granting a minority the same rights the majority enjoy is somehow stripping the majority of their rights. However, majorities can not have a human right that minorities, who are equally human, also possess. Granting equality of rights cannot strip others of their rights. If it does, then what they are calling rights are actually privileges.

Caldwell falsely claims that, "For refusing to place life-long homosexual relations on the same moral plane as heterosexual ones, the Church of England has been accused by the gay-rights group Stonewall of holding 'a masterclass in melodramatic scaremongering.'"

The issue is not putting gay people on the same "moral plane" in the eyes of the Church, but putting gay people on the same LEGAL PLANE in the eyes of the state. Mr. Caldwell surely knows this, as he appears to be relatively intelligent.

What Stonewall actually condemned was the Church's claim that allowing gays to civilly marry would mean that Church of England would have to give up performing all legal marriages.

That is scaremongering and that is what Stonewall condemned. Mr. Caldwell's description is not accurate -- whether it is truthful depends on whether Mr. Caldwell knew he his description was inaccurate.

Former archbishop George Carey also claimed marriage equality would lead to separation of church and state. Given that the Church attracts very few worshippers, and receives substantial amounts of welfare from the British government, it seems an empty threat. They can't afford separation of church and state. Certainly if the Church seriously makes such a threat, the British government should immediately take them up on the offer, end all subsidies and remove all church officials from the House of Lords.

Caldwell ridicules the British government for mentioning the "ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage," claiming "there is no 'ban' on gays marrying, any more than there is a ban on men breastfeeding." No doubt, in conservative circles, that passes as wit and humor.

Of course, gay men can marry. Marriage is a legal contract and unless the regulatory state stands in the way. Caldwell pretends there is no "ban," only that gay marriage is apparently on line with "men breastfeeding."

While attempting humor Caldwell apparently is unaware that male lactation is possible after all. Using this as an example, only reveals his ignorance to be wider than was previously obvious. It is not merely a non sequitur; it is factually incorrect as well.

Caldwell complains that real marriage "runs counter to the individualistic grain of modern life out of which the idea of gay rights arises." If he means the idea that gay rights comes out of the idea of individual rights, he is correct, but individual rights are human rights -- a set of rights possessed by everyone because they are human. While such rights come out of their collective identity as human, they are respected, or denied, on an individual basis.

Caldwell claims marriage is "a constraint placed on couples by the state." But he never mentions what those constraints are. I would argue he doesn't mention them because he would be hard-pressed to name them. Marriage places few constraints, if any, on the couple.

What marriage laws do is grant rights to couples, such as the right to make medical decisions for the spouse. That is included as part of the marriage contract. It grants them, what Prof. Nancy Cott described as a "zone of liberty" in ways that others do not have. This is the opposite of what Caldwell claims. But then reality is often the opposite of what conservatives claim it to be.