TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

Gay Marriage: The Right to Voluntary Contract, Not to Coercive “Contract”

New York has properly legalized gay marriage. Melisa Erwin and Jennie McCarthy have improperly filed an anti-discrimination complaint under New York law to force a private business to host gay weddings.

The targets of the complaint, Robert and Cynthia Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm and opponents of gay marriage, refused to host Erwin and McCarthy’s wedding, citing religious freedom as justification.

Every individual has a right to live by his own moral standards, even irrational ones, so long as his actions don’t violate the rights of others. But this issue is not primarily about freedom of religion and conscience; rather, it is about freedom of association and contract.

Erwin and McCarthy claim that Liberty Ridge is in violation of NY law, which forbids a business that serves the public to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. But the inalienable rights of gays to forge a marriage contract does not include the right to force others to do business with them. It is just as wrong for Erwin and McCarthy to impose their values on the Giffords by forcing them to host gay weddings as it was for the government to impose the Giffords’ standards on gays by legally banning gay marriage.

As a private business, Liberty Ridge has a right to choose its associations and to contract with customers on voluntary, mutually agreed terms. Freedom of contract means not only the right to voluntarily contract with others, but also to refrain from doing so for whatever reason or even no reason. The Giffords’ refusal to host gay wedding ceremonies does not violate the rights of gays, who are free to take their business elsewhere (as the couple said they would do).

Laws banning private discrimination contradict the proper purpose of government, which is to protect individual rights—including contract rights, marriage and business transactions alike—equally and at all times. The government’s proper role is to enforce the terms of voluntary contracts and to mediate contractual disputes or remedy breaches of contract. It has no legitimate role forcing anyone into contractual arrangements against his will.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Posted in: Individual Rights and Law

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Roark

    The law has no business in marriage. If two adults of the same gender want to be together than that is their business-that being said, Ayn Rand was right not to acknowledge homosexuality as a normal/rational human behavior. She understood the right of adults of the same gender being allowed to be together, but also new that just because they can doesn’t mean they should.

  • James Jenkins

    On that one Rand was wrong. She was denying objective reality and mans nature….If a person is a homosexual then it is illogical and against nature for him to try to be anything else.

  • Roark

    You are assuming homosexuality is not a choice.

  • John Gold

    I think Rand was right on homosexuality – it is “disgusting and immoral.”

  • corinne Holeva

    I agree with the idea that government should not have the power to force any business to celebrate an employee’s marriage for the reasons stated above. I also firmly believe that marriage is a legally recognized union between a man and a woman. I think to for any state to recognize homosexual “marriage” is to render the concept of marriage meaningless and is an attack on the moral foundation of western civilization. What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is up to them but under no circumstance should society recognize an involuntary sexual perversion as morally equal to marriage between an man and a woman. I have been a student of Objectivism for many years and I do not understand why TOS takes the position that gay marriage was “properly recognized in the state of New York”. Could someone explain this to me?

  • Todd Walton

    Just a nitpicky point for me: marriage is not “gay” (nor weddings). Not everyone who wishes to marry someone of the same sex is gay. “Same-sex marriage” would be both more accurate and more precise.

  • Wendy

    The moral foundation of western civilization is the rights of the individual, not a contractual agreement between two people, which is all marriage is. To elevate marriage to something more than that has no basis in logic. Procreation is entirely optional and does not make the union of two human beings in a contractual agreement any more or less meaningful.

  • Wendy

    As more scientific evidence has come in, it is becoming more and more likely that it is not a choice.

  • Guest
  • Jacob Zeise
  • Roark

    Objectivismonline is hostile to debate. They have a bad reputation for being rude and censoring posts.

  • Roark


  • Martin Lundqvist

    I don’t think the author had bisexuals in mind when he wrote the article, but yes “same-sex marriage” is more precise.
    In the the end, it doesn’t really matter either way though.

  • Martin Lundqvist

    Arguing over sexual preferences is like arguing over ice cream flavors. Is it any more moral to prefer vanilla over chocolate? Should vanilla be considered the “proper” ice cream flavor, because it has always been the standard ever since ice cream was invented?
    Arguing over such things (including sexual preferences) is petty and misses the point: if something makes a person happy by enhancing their life, and without harming others, then it is good – in that individual’s context. End of debate.

  • Jacob Zeise

    It’s true that the mods there have little tolerance for trolling, so I’d expect the site to have a “bad” reputation in certain communities. Anyway, I assume this means you’re not willing to look at the thread, and that’s fine. I’ll relay to you my favorite part.

    Objectivist-friendly people who oppose gay marriage often confuse the metaphysical with the man-made. The metaphysically given as it relates to this discussion is: rationality as the defining human characteristic, the social requirements of human survival that follow and human physiology and brain chemistry. The man-made consists of the institutions and laws that we craft to conform to our goals, especially marriage. Marriage is a teleological product, and so it must be redefined as our goals change.

    In the past the values that dictated the form of marriage were set by various forms of religion, tribalism and statism. Witness the slave-marriages that exist even today in some Islamic states. In America, our common values are derived from a mix of Judeo-Christian theology and Enlightenment-era respect for individual rights. So we largely have an institution that respects the rights of a couple when they decide to form civil partnerships. Unfortunately, that Judeo-Christian ethic mandates that civil contracts be enforced unobjectively. That ethic requires our courts to discriminate based on metaphysically given physiology that is irrelevant to the goal of creating a new family.

    Objectivists, students of Objectivism and Objectivist-friendly people should discard the judeo-christian influence and recognize same-sex marriage contracts. Marriage is, after all, the man made; it is proper for us to change it when better values so require.

  • Jacob Zeise

    In a free society contracts must be enforced, and enforced objectively. That includes marriage contracts. The government must not allow Judeo-Christian barbarism to distort how it treats these contracts. The sex of those involved in a marriage has no bearing on hospital visitation, inheritance, joint-holdings and immigration status.

  • Roark

    Ayn Rand was against homosexuality because it deviated from his biological function and identity as a physical entity. Embracing the anarchic/libertarian politics of gender are a sure way to move away from what Ms Rand understood as the law of identity. Personal preferences in regard to sex attraction are not Objective assessments.

  • Martin Lundqvist

    You are so full of bollocks. Being a homosexual has nothing to do with anarchy or libertarianism. Neither is it some kind of “deviance”; quoting Ayn Rand, at one of the few points when she was obviously mistaken, does not make you right; it is called argument-from-authority, a classic logical fallacy.
    And if you had properly understood Ayn Rand’s theory of sex, you would know that sex & love is more than just “biological function”, see the Playboy Interview for details.

  • Roark

    Oh, so she was only right about what YOU think she was right about. I understand the difference between sex and love, that does not negate the law of identity.

  • Martin Lundqvist

    I love your strawman defence, keep it up.

  • Roark

    You mean OBJECTIVE defense, thank you.

  • Martin Lundqvist

    Unlike you, I don’t consider any human being a Philosopher King or a Pope. There is nothing rational about blind faith and authority worship, therefore I draw my own coclusions, and you should do the same.
    It is for people like you that Objectivism is smeared as a cult; you disgust me.

  • Roark

    About a 9 on the tension scale there, Marty.