Marriage laws and the delicate balance between order and liberty

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Balancing_act_During a radio interview this week about the state’s defense of Utah’s marriage law, my host along with an opposing guest expressed incredulity about my references to “ordered liberty.” They didn’t get it. Those words, “ordered liberty,” were foreign to them. In the context of the same-sex marriage debate, those words were unrecognizable. Frankly, I’m amazed that two intelligent people like them don’t get it – then again, maybe they don’t want to get it.

I must own two dozen books about that subject alone. Ordered liberty is the basis of a free society. And it’s easy to understand.

A free society – people who are both free and who live together in society – requires recognition of both order and individual liberty. Just think about traffic laws. We’re free to drive where we want, when we want and – 99 percent of the time – we get where we’re going safely precisely because we have rules for the road. Driving is a combination of individual liberty and order. A free society is no different.

If you’re old enough you might recall that wonderful series on PBS titled “The Constitution: That Delicate Balance” – well, that delicate balance is between order and liberty. That balance is in constant flux.

Sometimes society places too much emphasis on order and sometimes too much emphasis on individual liberty. Interestingly, too much emphasis on either one leads to tyranny – a point easier to see when we discuss order than when we discuss liberty. But a free society without rules isn’t a free society.

In the friend of the court brief Sutherland Institute filed this week in support of Utah’s marriage law, we argued that ordered liberty requires a free society to cherish and champion the natural family with marriage as its cornerstone. We argue that if the definition of marriage is changed to mean anything other than a man and a woman in a child-centric vision of family, the delicate balance of ordered liberty will be irreparably tipped in the name of individual liberty and tyranny will result. If marriage can mean anything, marriage means nothing. And if marriage means nothing, the family structure it supports is demeaned and denigrated in its fundamental societal role. And, once the structure is compromised, the delicate balance between order and liberty will tip and tyranny will result – either tyranny of the majority or tyranny of the individual.

The battle over same-sex marriage and the meaning of marriage has a transcendent nature in a free society. It is the battle between selfish individualism and the common good. The “state interest” we hear about places the natural family at the center of society – the natural family is the fundamental unit of a free society. Only the natural family provides stability and autonomy required in a free society – the state can’t do that, the individual can’t do that, the corporation can’t do that and the church can’t do that. None of these other contenders for “the fundamental unit of society” can do what the natural family can do.

The state interest is always a purpose, not a person. Utah’s defense of its marriage law is a defense of a purpose. The attack on Utah’s marriage law is a defense of a person – an adult-centric worldview wherein “consenting adults” place their selfish needs ahead of children and the best interests of society. That’s the debate. That’s what Utah is fighting for and against.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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