I recently stumbled across an interesting essay discussing the connection between free markets and gay marriage, written in 2006 by the prominent legal theorist Ronald Dworkin in the New York Review of Books.
Dworkin argues that culture is shaped, among other things, both organically and by law. Organically, it is shaped "by the discrete decisions of individual people about what to produce and what to buy and at what price, about what to read and say, about what to wear, what music to listen to, and what god if any to pray to." But our culture "is also shaped by law, that is, by collective decisions taken by elected legislators about how we must all behave." Which of these processes - organic or legal - should predominate in the case of same-sex marriage?
What's most interesting about the essay is Dworkin's critique of conservatives who oppose state regulation of markets forbidding evolution in economic practices and arrangements but who invite state regulation of marriage forbidding evolution in familial practices and arrangements.
Socialist societies do give people in power the authority to shape the economic environment for everyone by stipulating prices and the allocation of resources and production. But we insist on a free market in goods and services: we insist, that is, that the economic culture be shaped by a composite of individual decisions reflecting individual values and wishes.
The socialism of a centrally controlled economy is an insult to liberty as well as to efficiency-a view most enthusiastically held by the conservatives who favor a religious model for non-economic culture. They do not realize that liberty is even more perilously at stake in the religious than the economic case. . . .
Everything I said about the cultural heritage and value of marriage is equally true of the general institution of religion: religion is an irreplaceable cultural resource in which billions of people find immense and incomparable value. Its meaning, like that of marriage, has evolved over a great many centuries. But its meaning, again like that of marriage, is subject to quite dramatic change through organic processes . . . . American religious conservatives, even those who regard themselves as evangelical, do not imagine that the cultural meaning of religion should be frozen by laws prohibiting people with new visions from access to the title, legal status, or tax and economic benefits of religious organization.
Within broad boundaries, conservatives believe, markets should be shaped by individual decisions. The presumption in markets should be against central regulation. A similar principle would apply to religious beliefs and practices - they should be allowed to develop organically.
Same-sex marriage is the product of an ongoing, organic process that reflects the values of millions of our fellow citizens living in actual families. The opposition to same-sex marriage, at least in so far as it is grounded in dogma, amounts to this: We know the truth, we have the power to write that truth into law, and we will use our power to stop any further development contradicting it. Applied to markets, conservatives would call it socialism.