Many have argued in recent years that the U.S. constitutional system exalts individual rights over responsibilities, virtues, and the common good. Answering the charges against liberal theories of rights, James Fleming and Linda McClain develop and defend a civic liberalism that takes responsibilities and virtues—as well as rights—seriously. They provide an account of ordered liberty that protects basic liberties stringently, but not absolutely, and permits government to encourage responsibility and inculcate civic virtues without sacrificing personal autonomy to collective determination.
The battle over same-sex marriage is one of many current controversies the authors use to defend their understanding of the relationship among rights, responsibilities, and virtues. Against accusations that same-sex marriage severs the rights of marriage from responsible sexuality, procreation, and parenthood, they argue that same-sex couples seek the same rights, responsibilities, and goods of civil marriage that opposite-sex couples pursue. Securing their right to marry respects individual autonomy while also promoting moral goods and virtues. Other issues to which they apply their idea of civic liberalism include reproductive freedom, the proper roles and regulation of civil society and the family, the education of children, and clashes between First Amendment freedoms (of association and religion) and antidiscrimination law. Articulating common ground between liberalism and its critics, Fleming and McClain develop an account of responsibilities and virtues that appreciates the value of diversity in our morally pluralistic constitutional democracy.