On November 4, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled that same-sex couples can adopt children. In traditional and social media, some rejoiced over the decision, deeming it a historic first step towards equal rights. Others criticized the ruling citing personal or religious beliefs.
What both sides fail to see is that the real winner was the state.
Beyond this particular case, what we are witnessing is a clash of definitions. Different groups want to impose on the rest of society a particular concept of the family, of who its members can be and of what rights they are entitled to.
One way or another, they want to influence the final decision, because individuals aren’t free to choose their way of life. Rather, the state takes those decisions for us.
In a truly free society, such decisions wouldn’t be in the hands of only eight judges, who, after a heated debate, proclaim: “we have created a right!” By doing so, they imply that rights derive from the government. The Constitutional Court’s decision equalizes the playing field for two particular groups regarding a set of rights, but it keeps us all at a safe distance from actual freedom.
Personally, I’m against these legally sanctioned state permits, because, historically, permits have been used as a tool of exclusion. The ban on women’s suffrage and “interracial” or gay marriages, among other prohibitions, are examples of how certain groups create a monopoly on the definition of individual rights in order to force people to act in certain ways.
Let us not forget that the state’s power to define a right is a double-edged sword. If the state can grant a right, it can limit or suppress other rights just as easily. Even today, homosexual couples in Colombia can’t marry, since the legal definition of marriage covers only a man and a woman.
It is obvious that both marriage and the family precede the modern state, as do property rights. These institutions arise not from government, but from individuals’ freedom of association and their right to sign binding contracts. In a theoretical state of anarchy, for instance, marriage, the family, and property rights would still exist in some form.
With this in mind, should we permit same-sex couples to adopt children? The government should not intervene in these cases, since it’s a matter of freedom of association. Any person can do what they want as long as they don’t violate others’ rights.
In the same manner, the state can’t force the Catholic Church or any other individual to recognize same-sex adoption as a morally legitimate act only because eight individuals decided that this was the case. If anyone finds the idea of adoption by a homosexual couple offensive, as many people do, there is a simple solution: let’s not recognize same-sex adoption as a right in the first place.
It’s not a radical proposal. We do it everyday. I enjoy music and various TV shows, but I don’t believe choke salsa or midday telenovelas have any artistic value whatsoever. In fact, I feel that people who watch or listen to that kind of thing are harming themselves. But they’re definitely not harming me, so I have no authority to prevent them from choosing any entertainment they wish. Either way, I wouldn’t enjoy shaping the general culture according to my own tastes.
The same applies to adoption by same-sex couples. If someone is against it, no one in a free society could keep him from expressing his opinion, just like no one could keep two men or two women from considering their union a marriage and therefore deciding to adopt children.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling tackles a particular group’s lack of rights. Yet, we can’t ignore that these hermeneutic quarrels can be solved in a better way if we simply put prejudices aside and leave free individuals to decide how and with whom they would like to associate voluntarily.
We shouldn’t allow the state to decide for us. We should demand that the government limit itself to carrying out its basic functions. The state should guarantee rights, not define them.
René Sandoval is an anthropologist currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Los Andes. Follow @renesandovalram.