The utilitarian conservative case against gay marriage

Earlier this month, The Australian published an article advocating more equal treatment of gay Australians. There’s nothing particularly unusual about that, as many such articles have been published over the years. This one attracted attention, however, because it was written by Tim Wilson, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.

This has put the IPA in the unusual position of receiving praise from the left and criticism from the right, in the form of an op-ed in today’s Australian by my friend John Heard. He’s taking a more conciliatory line toward the IPA on his blog today, but in the article he wonders why a ‘conservative’ think-tank is promoting gay marriage.

As I have pointed out before, there is some confusion in the IPA between liberalism and conservatism, but I think like much of the right we could say that they are economically liberal but have more diverse views on social issues, ranging from libertarianism to conservatism. I don’t think the liberal tradition provides any intellectual resources for discrimination against gay people, but clearly the conservative tradition does, and that’s what John is appealing to in his article – though on the gay marriage issue, not on superannuation laws and other ‘minor injustices’, as he calls them.

As John’s blog post clarifies but the op-ed does not, Wilson did not actually support gay marriage in his article. But John’s arguments against are still worth considering. His most general statement of principle is:

A “homo-con” like me would likely look at how many people are being affected by the apparent injustice and which wider goals are served by the same.

If the net result is a gain for the common good, then the discrimination is, far from an injustice, rather a boon for families and an exercise in good government.

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