Over at Reason, the Libertarian Party of California is quoted as saying:
There’s no reason why consenting adults should not be allowed to marry so long as their arrangement doesn’t interfere with any other individual’s ability to live their life in any way they want to.
Aye, there’s the rub. With the contemporary culture of the invasive nanny state, we do not let people suffer the consequences of their own mistakes.
We can see this in the history of the sexual revolution. We were sold the idea that people had the right to make their own decisions about sexuality free from the involuntary restraints of law and culture. Yet, at the same time, it quickly become standard to regard dealing with the negative consequences of those choices as the responsibility of the rest of society.
People are free to have sex however and whenever they choose, but if they catch an STD, the state is expected to pay for their healthcare. If they get pregnant, the state is expected to pay for abortions or pre-natal care. If people choose not to form and maintain a traditional family, the state is responsible for picking up any economic short fall or dealing with the social pathologies of their children.
In an ideal free society we could let people make their own mistakes because social natural-selection would rapidly correct any errors. People who did stupid things would end up poor, marginalized, unemulated. Nothing cures stupidity like the freedom to fail.
Today, we live in far from an ideal free society. People expect that the state will pick up the pieces when they fail. We blame negative consequences not on the individual but on impersonal forces in society itself. We see people who choose poorly as innocent victims of fate. In this real-world society, the consequences of person’s personal decisions become the responsibility of the collective. That responsibility in turn mandates some authority over the individual’s decisions in order to prevent the harm for which the collective stands responsible for mitigating.
I personally support gay marriage but it is easy to see how the California Libertarians legal thinking would support people choosing polygamy, polyamory or something not yet imagined. Not a problem for me in theory, but with our present real-world institutions, such choices could prove disastrous.
Liberty without responsibility does not produce freedom. It merely enslaves the responsible to the irresponsible. Creating a legal standard that lets people chose whatever marriage arrangements they wish will be a disaster unless we simultaneously create a legal standard of personal responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.