This post on the Left’s dissonant support of sexual freedom by Tim Sandefur is great. He locates the central contradiction in the left’s support of individual sexual rights as contrasted with its total rejection of all other individual rights and offers a compelling diagnosis.
The answer is: historical accident. During the 1960s, natural rights arguments were heard most powerfully from the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, who associated themselves with the left. That injected the left with a rhetorical tradition that is powerfully effective. They aren’t able or willing to let that tool go. They often employ it in the most ridiculous ways (esp. environmentalism) but in the area of sexual freedom, they’re on solid ground arguing natural rights, even though it clashes with their view on virtually everything else.
Of course, if the Left’s support for sexual liberty is tactical rather than foundational, then we should expect that support to ebb with the daily tracking polls. Which, of course, is exactly what we do see. None of the major Democratic candidates for President supported same-sex marriage and all agreed to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Sandefur sees this and points out that the status quo is inherently untenable,
And so we’re left with a weird and totally unsustainable situation: the left, which rejects the principle of individual rights in virtually every other sphere, speaks with the most morally grand tones of the fundamental human right of sexual freedom. That situation can’t last. How can it be that a business license or a building permit is a mere government privilege, but a marriage license is a basic human right?
There are certainly arguments to be made about the centrality of sexual choice and the importance of sexual freedom and why those liberties deserve protections that economic liberties do not. But as Sandefur notes, those are not natural rights arguments; they are progressive arguments that treat sexual liberties as privileges granted by the state in furtherance of the state’s objectives. The left doesn’t often use that language to defend sexual liberty because… well because doing so would reveal the underlying truth: that the progressive commitment to sexual liberty is merely instrumental. If social engineering demanded restricting sexual freedoms (like criminalizing sexual reproduction) then sexual freedoms will be restricted. In the end, for the progressives, neither the business license nor the marriage license is sacrosanct.
Eventually, supporters of sexual liberty will discover the same kind of betrayal that supporters of economic liberty encountered on the right. If the progressive commitment to sexual liberty is merely instrumental, it is no less instrumental than the conservative commitment to free trade and economic liberty. The sad fact is that we have long moved past the point where any major political party or movement regarded individual liberty and autonomy with much respect or attention.
It will be interestingto see exactly how the next challenge to Proposition 8 is handled. With today’s ruling upholding the amendment. It appears that the only options are either yet another amendment to reverse what was reveresed (and another court challenge to attempt to reverse the reversal of the reversal of the original judicial reversal), or Califonria activists can try to take their fight to the feds. Given the current political climate and the, shall we say tepid support, that gay-marriage proponents have gotten from Obama, that route doesn’t see too promising. But who knows?
It would certainly be a pleasure to hear why gay-marriage should recevie protection as a fundamental right and incorporation through the 14th amendment, but why the second amendment should not be incorporated. If a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, what should we imagine is the stubborn insistence on inconsistency? The bugbear of dullards?