Over the course of human history, at least insofar as it would generally be perceived in the UK, there has been an acceptance that a single, exclusive right answer can be found, or at least has been imposed, in a wide number of social and political circumstances. So, it has been traditional to have only one partner for life, monogamy, the only state religion is monotheistic and the UK is a monarchy.
It appears that “one” has been the preferred answer in social affairs. Furthermore this has been vigorously enforced over history. In more recent times the challenges upon this mono-culture have grown but still the establishment clings to the old order of things. I want to look at two areas where I suspect one conclusion may not be the right answer.
The debate about legalising gay marriage opens up the possibility of a fundamental re-appraisal of the nature of relationships between individuals and the extent to which they can or should be recognised by the state. One opposite sex partner for life has been the traditionally state recognised basis of relationships in the UK, at least until divorce became more readily available.
Marriage at the moment is effectively one opposite sex partner at a time. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill if enacted would ease the transition to one partner at a time and surely this begs the question: “why just one?” It is often found that some people already have more than one relationship at a time and there are those who have more than one romantic/sexual/intimate relationship at time. Whether statute cares to recognise the fact is quite beside the point, the state is not in a position to dictate how many relationships an individual can be involved in at any one time, and enforcement would be unrealistic even if thought desirable. Similarly, if individuals wish to have non exclusive relationships, sexual or otherwise that is, surely, their choice; but the odd thing is that the state appears to avoid recognising all or none of these relationships. Currently, the state is only prepared to recognise one of these in marriage. It may be that this recognition is an artefact of a bygone time, whereby marriage was used as a proxy to establish parentage, probably to settle or forestall disputes about property. However, if this is the case, other methods are now available, which leaves state promoted monogamy both futile and unnecessary.
The concept of having one ruler is again an example of “one” being the right answer. Now to clarify the issue here, it is usual to regard monarchy as the rule of one individual. In the UK the political developments over history have created modifications such that the present Queen is monarch but does not rule. The government, assembled by the Queen’s appointed Prime Minister, from those elected (House of Commons) or appointed (House of Lords) (plus 92 hereditary peers) to parliament, is the ruler in the UK today. In the UK there is one government. The notion of more than one government, federalism for example, is essentially taboo, it is the “wrong” answer; the right answer is one government/ruler.
For libertarians, the freedom of people to choose their own lifestyle is important, so long as it does not involve harm or coercion. To that extent, it could be argued that at present individuals can choose their partners largely without state interference. (Restrictions caused by the age of consent are not being discussed here) The state doesn’t force people to marry. On the other hand the state does privilege one type of relationship over others and although there are (welcome) signs of movement, there is a way to go. An alternative is that relationships should cease to be the concern of the state altogether.
The discussion on monarchy is more difficult. If more governments (federalism) meant less government (weaker competing powers), some libertarians would see that as a step in the right direction, whereas others cannot accept the more is less premise. For others the logical next step from one government is zero government, although theoretical and practical difficulties do not make this a realistic short term prospect. This leads to the unfortunate conclusion that “one” will remain the “right answer” for governments in the UK for a while yet.