In the video clip below, Chad Griffin, then Board President of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, discusses the battle for gay rights with Ted Olson, who successfully litigated California’s Prop 8 case. Griffin suggests, in an apparent attempt at humor, that he might re-think his support for same-sex marriage after hearing that the Cato Institute and I, as Cato’s chairman, are outspoken advocates for marriage equality.
Regrettably, statements such as Griffin’s are too often misunderstood by less diligent members of the media and other casual observers who conflate libertarians and conservatives. Cato has consistently embraced civil liberties, including but not limited to the right to same-sex marriage. By contrast, conservatives – with whom we are mistakenly equated – have been selective in their endorsement of personal freedom. Indeed, some conservatives, who vigorously promote federalism, have also promoted a Federal Marriage Amendment. That amendment, which defines marriage throughout the country as “the union of a man and a woman,” would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriage within their own borders, even if desired by the state’s citizens. What could be less compatible with fundamental principles of federalism?
More generally, conservatives agree with Cato on some issues – such as the right to bear arms, lower taxes, reduced spending, free trade, and less economic regulation. Liberals agree with us on other issues – such as immigration reform, drug legalization, marriage equality, and a non-interventionist foreign policy. Does that indicate libertarians are philosophically inconsistent? No, it indicates quite the reverse – conservatives and liberals are philosophically inconsistent. Conservatives want smaller government in the fiscal sphere, but they condone bigger government when it comes to empire building and regulating personal behavior. Liberals want fewer government restrictions in the social sphere, but they embrace strict limits on economic liberties. Unlike liberals and conservatives, Cato scholars have a consistent, minimalist view of the proper role of government. We want government out of our wallets, out of our bedrooms, and out of foreign entanglements unless America’s vital interests are at stake.