The Libertarian Party Has Failed Gay Rights

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Dec. 30 2013 3:21 PM

How Libertarians Failed Gay Rights

Bob Barr
Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr.

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

The current Libertarian Party home page has tabs for a wide range of topics, from crime (solution: more guns) to gun laws (solution: more guns) to the environment (solution: less regulation). Among these tabs is a “Current Issues” section, featuring blurbs covering the "Bush/Obama Bailouts” and “Civil Liberties.” Conspicuously absent from the page: any mention of gay rights.

Surprised? Don’t be. Despite myriad political developments in the last 10 years, not to mention three presidential elections during which Democrats and Republicans debated the topic at length, the Libertarian Party website has no section devoted to LGBTQ issues. To find that content, users have to dig around in the site’s archives. The results are laughably minor: The most recent press release mentioning “LGBT” came in 2010—all of it spent decrying President Barack Obama’s “inaction” on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. LGBTQ Democrats are painted as victims suffering from the offensive catchphrase “battered gay voter syndrome.” Democrats, despite their recent efforts to expand gay rights, are labeled as oppressors. The cure for all this persecution is, of course, the Libertarian Party.


In a sense, the website is an appropriate metaphor for the party in general. Libertarians like to tout the fact that the party supported marriage equality in 1971, when it was founded. Sort of.  In fact, two years after Stonewall, the party’s platform called for the abolishment of “victimless crimes,” which lumped homosexuality with prostitution, polygamy, recreational drugs, abortion, and gambling. While certainly not a ringing endorsement of the LGBTQ community, the mere acknowledgement of gay people’s existence was an important step forward for an American political party. It’s also true that in the 1990s, the Libertarian Party (having no elected representatives) did join a small handful of Democrats in opposing DOMA and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, despite overwhelming public support for both measures. This might seem like a case of talk being cheap, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Plenty of Libertarian candidates take strong positions on gay rights. So why shouldn’t all gay and lesbian voters support these candidates?

Because the Libertarian Party’s stance on gay rights never left the 1990s. The “government should stay out of your bedroom” era, which ended with Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, does not empower LGBTQ people outside of the bedroom—and that's exactly where we need to take the fight. In the Libertarian view, gay and lesbian marriages are not seen as a committed relationship between two adults, but rather as a step toward ending governmental involvement in marriage altogether. That’s not giving gay people equal rights: It’s stripping away everybody’s rights.

Marriage equality doesn’t end in the home. It carries over into the workplace as well. The Libertarian belief that all marriages should be viewed as a private contract is especially dangerous when coupled with the party’s disdain for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Libertarians believe that categorizing a minority as protected in the workplace impinges on the rights of private businesses to discriminate against employees (and customers) as they see fit. Walter Olson of the Cato Institute suggested last month that the low rate of suits filed under state-level ENDA legislation shows that federal legislation is unnecessary. Tell that to Mark Zmuda, whose employer asked him to dissolve his marriage in Washington state before firing him. While his case is unique because of exceptions in place for religious-affiliated organizations, the bias displayed by his employer is certainly not unique.

Rather than boldly argue for equal rights for everyone, Libertarians have merely argued for the dismantling of everyone's rights—the right to legal marriage, the right against workplace discrimination, and so on. That's not liberty; it's giving the green light to entrenched systemic discrimination. Libertarians could have led on this issue. Instead, they've fallen unforgivably far behind.

Tyler Lopez is a writer living in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?


Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 7:13 PM Deadly Advice When it comes to Ebola, ignore American public opinion: It’s ignorant and misinformed about the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 6:48 PM Apple: Still Enormously Profitable
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.