Moreover, the energy inspiring those clubs, associations, corporations, and movements was generated in what we today would call the “private sector”—outside of government. (If we followed Walter Williams’ suggested and used the term “government schools,” for what we call “public schools,” we could rethink the whole concept. ) What a robust civil society entailed was the existence of a great deal of free space in which people, alone or in groups, were free to act, or not to act. In the New York state of the mid-19th century, the “perfectionist” community in Oneida was tolerated for quite some time, despite its embrace of free love or “complex marriage,” as the group’s members called it, which most New Yorkers frowned upon. (By the time the larger populace found a way to shut down the experiment, it was beginning to fail on its own.)
Contrast the openness of the America of Tocqueville’s day with the story above. A couple has religious scruples about gay marriage. They cannot in good conscience allow their property to be used to label “marriage” something they view as nothing of the sort. Why is that the government’s business? Moreover, once it becomes the government’s business, it politicizes what used to be the free sphere of private action and choice.