by Russ Roberts on May 28, 2009

in Not from the Onion

I couldn't make this up:

Republicans can reach a broader base by
recasting gay marriage as an issue that could dent pocketbooks as small
businesses spend more on health care and other benefits, GOP Chairman Michael Steele said Saturday.

Steele said that was just an example of how the party can retool its
message to appeal to young voters and minorities without sacrificing
core conservative principles. Steele said he used the argument weeks
ago while chatting on a flight with a college student who described
herself as fiscally conservative but socially liberal on issues like
gay marriage.

"Now all of a sudden I've got someone who wasn't a spouse
before, that I had no responsibility for, who is now getting claimed as
a spouse that I now have financial responsibility for," Steele told
Republicans at the state convention in traditionally conservative Georgia. "So how do I pay for that? Who pays for that? You just cost me money."

I don't know what more offensive, the singling out of small business as if it's something special (it isn't) or the stupidity of an argument that applies with even more force to heterosexual marriage.

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MnM May 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm

The stupidity of the argument is definitely more offensive.

Chris in Austin May 28, 2009 at 4:03 pm

This is why I don't vote

Methinks May 28, 2009 at 4:12 pm

This is far too stupid to be offensive.

Martin Brock May 28, 2009 at 4:25 pm

If "equality" is the rationale for gay marriage, I suppose "fairness" dictates that we withdraw benefits of marriage from childless straight couples. These benefits are "unfair" to platonic roommates, cohabiting siblings, grown children living with a parent and other couples who are as responsible for one another as gay couples and childless straight couples, if not more so.

I've favored this approach for years. The problem is that states never withdraw entitlements.

save_the_rustbelt May 28, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Wow. Mind numbing stupid.

David S May 28, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Those are the two candidates for most offensive thing about that argument: the stupidity of the argument and the elevation of small business? Now it's my turn to say, 'Huh?' Seems to me the most offensive thing is the use of stupid arguments in an attempt to explicitly exclude class of people from the blessings of marriage. At least that's what jumped out at me…

Flash Gordon May 28, 2009 at 4:45 pm

The Republican party is on its way to extinction if all it has to speak for it are people such as Michael Steele, Colin Powell, John McCain, and other RINO's. Democrats get away with being clever, but Republicans always lose when they try to be clever.

Why not just be honest, Mr. Steele? Republicans should oppose "gay marriage" for one simple reason. It's not marriage.

MikeP May 28, 2009 at 4:48 pm

What jumped out at me was that the structure of this argument is identical to the argument for explicitly excluding a class of people — i.e., prospective and/or illegal immigrants — from the blessings of migration, residence, and labor because of the putative costs they impose on government services.

A lot of otherwise "fiscally conservative but socially liberal" seem to fall for that one too.

Jeremy P May 28, 2009 at 5:01 pm

This is one of the most stupid things I have heard today. Right behind Bristol Palin's quote to People Magazine: "If girls knew the consequences of sex, nobody would have sex. Trust me. Nobody." The Republicans should just shut up and let Biden and Pelosi do the talking.

Fred May 28, 2009 at 5:03 pm

This is Steele speaking, not the GOP. This is another example of why Steele is on his way out.

Doug Stevens May 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm

The argument is really bad.

The links didn't seem to go to the specific article so I couldn't tell if the college student actually had a response. Good thing Steele is using such intellectual heavy-weights as a sounding board.

Sam Grove May 28, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Hmmm, is seems the GOP is becoming the stupider party.

Chris O'Leary May 28, 2009 at 5:13 pm

So in other words he has no good justification for opposing gay marriage and is just making crap up to please certain people.

That makes sense.

Seth May 28, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Bad argument agreed for all the reasons stated.

On a slightly different angle, I could be wrong, but I thought small businesses had the freedom to design their benefit packages irrespective of how government recognizes relationships between people.

K Ackermann May 28, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Like Bob Livingston, Steele is going to be a blip in history. He's gone soon.

DAVE May 28, 2009 at 5:45 pm

This guy brings idiocy to a heretofore unknown level. God help the Republicans

Joe May 28, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Steele doesn't really have any control over the conservative movement. It's mainly held together by radio/tv/writers anyway. He's just dust in the wind.

Sad thing is I believe we could really use some resistance to Obama and co. from the republicans. With activist judges being appointed and national healthcare on the agenda us libertarians need all the help we can get.

DAVE May 28, 2009 at 5:51 pm

If you're against gay marriage so be it.

There are legitimate reasons either way (the least not being that government should get out of the marriage business and let the chips fall where they may).

If I'm a republican I'm cringing by now.

seanooski May 28, 2009 at 5:53 pm

It finally happened. The Republicans have finally shifted to the left so far that they are superfluous. Everything hereafter is one party rule. God help us.

Methinks May 28, 2009 at 5:59 pm

The Republicans are stupid and the Democrats are conceited. Yet, the Republicans are the only realistic counterweight to our current single-party government.


Bristol Palin is a KID. How many stupid things did you say when you were a kid? Come to think of it, I know plenty of grown women who have said exactly the same thing soon after painful childbirth. I don't know what's more stupid, what she said or thinking some teenage mama is a representative of a political party.

Methinks May 28, 2009 at 6:04 pm


The government will not get out of the business of marriage because the government has an interest in the minors resulting from marriage and one of the few legitimate tasks of government is to protect minors when the need arises.

K May 28, 2009 at 6:28 pm

A national party stance for or against gay marriage is utterly stupid.

If the GOP is to mean anything they must advocate leaving GM to the state legislatures. And each legislator should be free to vote as he believes believes.

The only GOP position should be that judges should not define marriage when the legislature or people have spoken.

At the national level the best party position is to say the tax code can contain whatever Congress wants it to contain.

That is exactly what the 16th Amendment says whether you like the income tax or not.

Issues will remain. Is a gay marriage legally done overseas valid in the US. Answer: Yes it is. Read the Constitution, like it or not.

By far the best solution is for government to stop using the word marriage. Call everything a contract.

Then each church can do as it wishes about performing or refusing to perform ceremonies and rites. But those church acts will have no legal meaning.

Dr. T May 28, 2009 at 6:36 pm

The argument was extremely stupid. The argument was made by a prominent politician. Is anybody surprised about the high correlation between sentence one and sentence two?

Constant May 28, 2009 at 7:22 pm

"the stupidity of an argument that applies with even more force to heterosexual marriage."

So abolish heterosexual marriage. That would be a good thing. The state can't really abolish marriage any more than it can abolish friendship, or romantic love, or promises, or solemn vows, or belief in a Creator. All that the state would be abolishing if it abolished marriage would be state recognition of the marriage. The abolition of marriage would be no more and no less than the privatization of marriage. And that would be a good thing.

So Steele's argument is actually an excellent one. The only thing that is "stupid" about the argument is that, presumably, Steele wouldn't want to take it to its logical conclusion and abolish heterosexual marriage. But this doesn't make Steele any stupider than all the commenters here, all of whom seem to have drunk the same koolaid as Steele. At least, I haven't seen anyone recognize that abolition of heterosexual marriage would be a good thing.

Ben May 28, 2009 at 7:32 pm

"Right behind Bristol Palin's quote to People Magazine"

In fairness, she's hardly the first teenager to be dumbfounded to discover that her parents were actually right about something.

Doug Stevens May 28, 2009 at 7:39 pm

But this doesn't make Steele any stupider than all the commenters here, all of whom seem to have drunk the same koolaid as Steele.

Lighten up, Francis.

I think you missed the point. What people are commenting on is that Steele has already made up his mind and is now inventing ridiculous arguments in an attempt to justify his position.

Kevin May 28, 2009 at 7:51 pm

I think the patronizing reference to small business is more offensive. The incremental cost is a gripe about the change of a regulatory regime, which is pathetic but not particularly offensive.

Methinks May 28, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Okay, constant, I'll bite – why would it be a good thing?

Family law is based on our long experience with families. "Marriage" as defined by the state is simply a standardized contract based on this long experience. If you "privatize" marriage, you still end up with a standardized contract that the state will enforce. It doesn't seem that different to me.

Incidentally, you can eliminate virtually every complaint of gay couples by way of private contract. Except for acceptance by all, which I think is the real reason gay activists insist on expanding the ages old definition of marriage instead of seeking a contract of their own that would be better suited to the specific and different issues that arise in a homosexual family. You can't legislate your way to acceptance.

Mark May 28, 2009 at 8:44 pm

why does the government even acknowledge heterosexual marriages?

In my book, all marriages in the government's eyes should be termed civil unions.

Couples could then approach the spiritual authority of his/her choice for a marriage certificate.

I am against same sex marriage becasue I dont think it is right from an individualistic perspective for the government to redefine a term (being marriage) that has meant the same thing for thousands of years. I understand how this would be offensive to religious individuals.

At the same time, michael steele's "strategy" is offensive in itself. I am a young person and I vote republican because it is slightly better than the alternative. But this disconnect perfectly demonstrates why republicans continue to loose support among my generation.

Jeremy P May 28, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Oh, the irony,
I actually am Bristol Palin's age. I am a high school senior. I am 18. I AM A KID, and I think it is hilariously stupid! Sure I say stupid things, but I own up to them. She might not be a real representative of the party, but she and her mother will always be associated with the GOP in the public's eyes. You are right, it is stupid to make this association, but did as Bryan Caplan might tell you, Democracies are stupid make irrational assumptions. Do you not think that the same populace that elected Dear Leader will think of Bristol's idiotic quote as another example of Republican stupidity and extremism. I doubt there is not pressure from the party to go on an abstinence tour, and if there isn't she should take a lesson from her mom's campaign and skip the media tour altogether.

The Dirty Mac May 28, 2009 at 9:07 pm

That quote is a good example of why I am a big L Libertarian.

Bill Nichols May 28, 2009 at 10:05 pm

It really amounts to a re-framing. Small business is "special" because it is a targeted constituency. After all, the Democrats seem to have locked up the "to big to fail" vote. Yes you can turn around the argument on traditional marriage. But their constituency will accept that cost, while balking at extension. Sensible argument has nothing to do with sensible politics. I suspect they know more about politics than I do.

Methinks May 28, 2009 at 10:07 pm


What does "owning up to it" have to do with anything? Did Bristol Palin deny she made that comment? She specifically refers to "girls" and says they are more likely to reject sex at such an – presumably at early age – if they could fully grasp the possible consequences. Does it not occur to you that she may be talking about the hardships of teenage pregnancy and the daunting prospect of parenthood at such an early age? I don't find any of that particularly stupid.

Do you really think adults view the child of a politician as a representative of the politician's political party? Children of celebrities and politicians are often thrust into the limelight and I don't think anyone seriously gives equal weight to Bristol Palin's comments and Joe Biden's.

Sam Grove May 28, 2009 at 10:12 pm

The government will not get out of the business of marriage because the government has an interest in the minors resulting from marriage and one of the few legitimate tasks of government is to protect minors when the need arises.

Th government does not require people to be married to have children. That particular intervention is carried out via birth certification.

Even if a child is not certified and not a product of marriage, the government still maintains itself as the defacto protector of the child.

Crusader May 28, 2009 at 10:33 pm

The Republicans further dig their graves by being anti-gay.

Jeremy P May 28, 2009 at 10:35 pm

You are right. Bad choice of words.
However, I do think that her abstinence tour is being viewed as representing the GOP and its views. Believe me, I thought Sarah Palin was ok, I just thought, "wow. It's a good thing Bristol Palin is not in charge of directing the perpetuation of the species." It was light-hearted humor, not a vicious attack on a teen mother.

K Ackermann May 28, 2009 at 10:58 pm

With activist judges being appointed…

A mindless, reflexive statement, as though spoken by a parrot.

They are all activist judges on the Supreme Court. The easy cases have precedent and stand, but many cases that make it to the Supreme Court have no precedent and require interpretation. It is why there are 9 judges, and not 1. Duh!

Lincoln said something to the effect that if our existence depended on the absolute and fixed decisions of the Supreme Court, then liberty is out of reach.

Was Taney an activist judge when he decided that the court had no authority to prohibit slavery, and that a slave, being property, could never become a citizen or petition the court? Doesn't that collide with the notion of liberty?

Warren was an 'activist' judge and slammed home civil rights once and for all.

You show me a judge who is not an 'activist', and I'll show you a useless lump wasting a valuable chair. Clarence Thomas is such a judge. I'm not sure the guy has written a single paper since being appointed.

My main reason for viewing the 'activist judge' meme as a slogan for fools is because any decision by the court can essentially overturned by congress just by crafting a new law. In fact, because congress is so useless now, the Supreme Court has had to specifically prod congress to craft new laws. The dissenting opinion in 5-4 splits sometimes calls on congress to enact specific laws to get around an injustice left to stand on a technicality. Lily Ledbetter is a recent example of that.

Superheater May 28, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Its a stupid comment, and I have to wonder if its intentional.

Methinks May 28, 2009 at 11:36 pm


I didn't think you were attacking a teen mother, just misinterpreting what she said. I didn't know she was on an abstinence tour, but abstinence is certainly preferable at least to the very conservative in the Republican party. So, I agree with you there. And let's be honest here – no matter how cool, liberal and "with-it" parents may think they are, they really would all prefer for their teenagers to abstain if they had their "druthers".

I don't really understand the fascination with the Palins – particularly Bristol. From what little I know, she doesn't exactly strike me as a kid who makes particularly good choices or is particularly interesting.

Methinks May 28, 2009 at 11:56 pm

Sam, you're right – and the state does not mandate marriage to have children. But since heterosexual unions produce children, the state will take an interest in those unions.

Besides, there is the matter of family law and the contract of marriage which the courts uphold. The religious anti-gay marriage crowd confuses the legal issue by arguing from their almost irrelevant religious beliefs. In fact, family law is based on traditional societal ties and our understanding and experience with those relationships. It's true that our understanding of those relationships and our experiences changes over time family law changes as a result.

Methinks May 29, 2009 at 12:03 am

Crusader, being anti gay marriage is not necessarily anti gay. Heck, I have gay friends who are anti gay marriage.

Actually, I have some gay friends who think it's not at all the same thing as a heterosexual marriage and should be treated and respected as its own entity. One thinks it's exactly like heterosexual marriage and should be treated and viewed by society and the law exactly the same as traditional marriage. And I know a few who are anti gay marriage gay people. Anecdotal for sure, but I found the range of opinions to be interesting.

Christopher Renner May 29, 2009 at 12:33 am

K Ackermann, you clearly haven't the slightest idea of how the Supreme Court works, or of the effects of the decisions you cite.

First off,

"any decision by the court can essentially overturned by congress just by crafting a new law."

No they can't do this for just ANY decision. Sometimes the SC strikes down particular provisions of a law, sometimes they declare laws void for vagueness, sometimes they issue an opinion with qualifications for the legislature to use in rewriting.

This is not true for most cases, and it's been established for more than a century that when the SCOTUS declares a law unconstitutional, the law is void(barring of course a constitutional amendment or the SCOTUS revisiting the decision.)

As far as Dred Scott and the various decisions of the Warren Court, the problem is not that the decisions had purportedly far-reaching social effects.

The problem with those decisions is the piss-poor legal reasoning used, and the fact that the courts were making new laws instead of reviewing the work of the elected legislatures.

Also, Warren did not

slammed home civil rights once and for all.

You've completely ignored Truman's executive order desegregating the armed forces, for example, and every one of the various Civil Rights Acts passed by Congress, not to mention the 24th Amendment to the Constitution. All of these were more essential, and less legally questionable, to the civil rights movement, than any court decision on the matter has ever been.

Gil May 29, 2009 at 2:31 am

"Actually, I have some gay friends who think it's not at all the same thing as a heterosexual marriage and should be treated and respected as its own entity." – Methinks.

They're probably playing the 'good guys' as they don't want to get married and make heteros feel warm an fuzzy the same way (from that article a few weeks ago) a man who can't cheat wife because no other woman would have him support monogamy and faithfulness.

K Ackermann May 29, 2009 at 2:38 am

@ Christopher Renner, you are correct about Warren. I was not trying to imply he single-handedly promoted civil rights, I was just pointing out the effect that an 'activist' judge can have w/regards to liberty. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that conservative judges tend to come down harder against liberty.

Yes, when a law is deemed unconstitutional, the law is struck, or it must be re-written. Congress cannot deem a law constitutional, but it can shape a law in some pretty egregious ways.

Dred Scott, IMO, was more than poor legal reasoning. To me, it speaks volumes about the importance of diversity on the court. Walk a mile in someone's shoes, and all that.

Look at what has already transpired during the oral arguments in the Savana Redding case. A bunch of old men are asking what the big deal is by strip searching a 13-year-old girl… and finding nothing, to boot.

They can't even seem to imagine having a daughter go through the experience.

K Ackermann May 29, 2009 at 2:47 am

B.T.W. I was just looking into Clarence Thomas a bit more, and discovered he has not even asked a question during oral arguments since 2006. If that's not the epitome of a conservative judge, then I don't know what is.

John May 29, 2009 at 7:58 am

I wonder what would happen if Republicans started advocating for equal protection under the law for gay couples, in the form of an equivalent contract, while keeping the definition of marriage as a man and a woman.

The insistence by the gay community that those who oppose the redefinition of marriage are motivated by hate is a straw man, I just wish someone would hurry up and knock it down.

Brutus May 29, 2009 at 9:23 am

The only hope the Republicans have is for the Democrats to screw things up; this was the same position the Democrats found themselves in after the 2000 and 2002 elections. If that experience is in any way predictive, we are roughly six years away from a swing in the dominant party.

LowcountryJoe May 29, 2009 at 9:29 am

This is going to seem insensitive but I'll write it anyways. If a legal marriage can be redefined to include unions between same sex couples, then really anything may be classified as a legal marriage in the future with the correct amount of lobbying and lawyering.

Why is this important? Well, because of the nature of survivor benefits that Social Security benefits have in place once a spouse passes away. It is one thing for a private contract to pay out in the event of qualifying events but it is quite another thing for public social safety nets to pay out when that system is alreay financially strained. I cannot even imagine the strange and taboo legal marriages that may form just to get access to the public Social Security money once some widowed Social Security collecting person finds out that they're terminally ill – why not marry all of your grandchilren and have them collect and share the entitlement that would be coming every month for ten years or more…at least until the children are ready to 'remarry'.

Think that's sick and twisted? Yeah, so do I, but you know someone with no decency will try it just to collect cash for many years.

Superheater May 29, 2009 at 9:40 am

If gay "marriage" is passed, we'll need to apologize to Utah for making them prohibit polygamy as a condition of admission to the union, no?

Brutus May 29, 2009 at 9:41 am

Fighting gay marriage is fighting a losing battle over an issue that should basically be be left to the individual to sort out. Now if you want to fight the entitlements associated with marriage, by all means, go for it.

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