Anti-Discrimination, Arbitrary Discrimination, Charlotte, Gender Registration, Gender-Specific Restrooms, Hormone Replacement Therapy, LGBT Discrimination, Market Self-Regulation, Mises Institute, NC, North Carolina, Property Rights, Restroom Federalism, Roy Cardato, Separation of Bathroom and State, Transgender, Tyler Cowan
I’m following-up on “I’m a Restroom Federalist” by sharing “We Need Separation of Bathroom and State” by Roy Cordato at the Mises Institute. He makes a clean defense of the libertarian view that restrooms choices on private property must not be controlled by government. Any attempt to do so is a violation of private property rights, according to this view. I did not adequately treat the question of property rights in my first “restroom” post. Strong property rights in this context mean that you, a private businessperson, can set the rules for restroom use on your premises, or no rules at all. If you or your customers prefer gender-neutral restrooms in your place of business, so be it. If you believe your customers prefer separate restrooms based on a definition of gender, you can post appropriate signs and face any complaints privately without interference from government.
Many sincere observers hope for a way to fairly accommodate transgender individuals without unduly compromising the rights of others. In my mind, discrimination (or differences in accommodations) should not be tolerated in society if based on arbitrary distinctions. By that I mean the victim differs from the discriminator only in nonessential ways for the purposes at hand. For example, discriminating on the basis of race is wholly arbitrary in almost context. (A director casting the part of an individual of a specific race is a possible exception.) No real harm comes from tolerance and equal treatment in these contexts. I have argued that the market is self-regulating in punishing discrimination. And one can argue that certain freedoms may be violated (association, religion, expression and even property) when even arbitrary forms of discrimination are outlawed, as they are. In these situations, however, laws can work because there is little ambiguity in defining victims of discrimination and the legitimacy of their victimhood.
Is discrimination against transgenders in their restroom options just as arbitrary as it would be against other minorities? That depends upon whether “transgender” can be defined objectively. If it cannot, then denying the bearded lady’s transgender claim in the restroom is not so arbitrary, given the privacy rights of others.
Tyler Cowen discusses some of the complexities of determining whether there should be a legal definition of transgender, or a more “nuanced” definition of gender with three or more categories. That would eliminate any legitimate objections to gender-specific restrooms. However, a legal standard cannot be based solely on “inner feelings”. Aside from genitalia, are there objective facts that can be brought to bear in defining gender? A personal physician’s assessment of “gender intent” is one possibility. An active regimen of hormone replacement therapy is another. However, transgenders themselves might object to any specific definition of gender imposed by government. Many transgenders would prefer to have it remain a matter of self-identity, but it is impossible to clearly define rights on that basis. As Cowen notes, the “most libertarian view is to refuse to offer a legal definition of transgender.” He also adds:
“If we stick with no legal definition of transgender, let’s tackle the remaining problems directly. For instance we could significantly increase the penalties for men who abuse women or young girls in or near women’s rooms, if indeed that is an ongoing problem.“
As I intimated in my earlier post, I am unconvinced that gender-neutral restrooms won’t encourage voyeurism by posers. That implies a conflict between the rights of transgenders and the fundamental right to privacy. Given that fact, Cowen’s suggestion is sensible under any restroom regime. He also cites the existence of voluntary gender registration systems in other countries. Given a clear definition, transgenders choosing to register could use the restroom consistent with their gender identity and would have documented proof if any question arose as to their right to use a particular facility.
Cordato provides a good explanation of the Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinance and North Carolina’s new law striking it down. The Charlotte ordinance stripped owners of business property of their right to set rules for their own restrooms. The state law does several things: It restores the rights of business owners to provide separate restrooms for males and females, which is fine as far as it goes. It also mandates gender separation of multi-occupancy restrooms and locker rooms in government facilities. Truly, it is hard to imagine any good coming of mixing middle-school girls and boys in the same restrooms and locker rooms. However, the state law also prohibits the promulgation of any anti-discrimination law by lower jurisdictions. That seems a bit too sweeping.
Cowan says the North Carolina law is a solution in search of a problem, or worse:
“North Carolina made a mistake in signing the new law. Not just a practical mistake, because of the backlash, but a mistake outright. I’m not aware there was a problem needing to be solved, and yet new problems have been created.“
Maybe so, but the city of Charlotte clearly took a step in violation of private property rights, and one that threatened privacy rights. I stated in my first restroom post that alternative arrangements will be tested socially, at the ballot box, and by the courts. Some object to the strong privacy ethic that exists in the U.S. as prudish, but it is a cultural given, and privacy rights are protected by the Constitution. Given a conflict over rights between two parties, the courts must decide how to balance those interests.That’s as it should be. And so we’re back to the beauty of federalism!