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Marriage Equality — Socialist?

Really, you can’t make some of this stuff up. Here‘s a story about Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King’s view that  marriage equality is a…step towards socialism. Here’s the money quote (you can link to the full interview on this site, too):

If there’s a push for a socialist society where the foundations of individual rights and liberties are undermined and everybody is thrown together living collectively off one pot of resources earned by everyone, this is one of the goals they have to go to, same sex marriage, because it has to plow through marriage in order to get to their goal. They want public affirmation, they want access to public funds and resources….It is a purely socialist concept in the final analysis.

Whose “individual rights and liberties” are being “undermined,” and how? King’s arguing that granting same-sex couples the right to marry, by granting them the benefits accorded to marriage in the bargain, would lead to socialism? Then why isn’t the current institution of marriage also socialist, given that it’s heavily subsidized by the  government? Married couples receive, at overall taxpayer expense, benefits that other couples, in less formal relationships, do not. To the extent the subsidy is socialist, in other words, that’s true for existing marriages no less than for same-sex marriages.

While we’re on the subject, why do we bestow government largesse on married couples, given the cost of doing so? One can question particular rights and benefits (is the right to file a joint tax return really necessary to support marriage, for example? might that money be better spent on other programs?), but marriage is supported and subsidized because of our belief — supported by sound, if contested, social science evidence — that being married has benefits not only to the couple but to the larger society. In a good marriage, the couple (and perhaps their kids) form a sort of mini-socialist state, where all members sacrifice for the collective good, thereby increasing overall health and wealth, and relieving the larger society of the burden of doing so.  Subsidizing this kind of “efficient empathy” is thought to be justified from a cost-benefit perspective. I addressed the issue in detail in this law review article.

Maybe we’ve not added the costs properly. Perhaps we should reduce the subsidy given marriage. Maybe it should be increased. But addressing those issues is independent of the question of same-sex marriages.

Yet, as Andrew Sullivan notes here, the word “socialist”  “has now become synonymous in Foxland with ‘anything that scares me.'” That’s how health care reform (scary) becomes socialist, while Medicare (comforting) isn’t. Again, Sullivan:

The mindset that lumps [marriage equality] in with some amorphous threat to everything good and American is not rational. It is gripped by paranoia, illogic and prejudice.

The jury’s still out on how well it’s working.

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