My old mentor, Samuel Edward Konkin III, taught me early on that if you can get the other side to debate an issue as you frame it, you’ve already won.

When gun-control advocates convinced the major media only to report on cases where guns had been used by criminals, the insane, and the irresponsible to cause injury and mayhem, they’d already won their public-policy case to reduce the availability of guns in private hands. What rational person wants to arm violent sociopaths?

It was only when advocates of defensive rights hounded the media with both real-life cases and criminological studies showing that successful defensive gun uses far outnumbered gun misuse — that gun control was unilateral disarmament not of the predator but of the victim — that the public-policy tide shifted in favor of preserving the individual right to keep and bear arms.

A TV commercial when I was growing up asked me to debate the issue of whether cartoon rabbits had a right to eat sugary-coated dry cereals or whether “Trix is for kids.”

So the key question facing the voters of Maine in their referendum Tuesday — in which like every state that has put the question on the ballot they voted “Nay!” — was whether same-sex couples are a minority being denied a civil right to marry, or whether gay-marriage proponents are a special interest using legislatures and courts to overrule a popular consensus that marriage requires one-each penis and vagina.

I’m a libertarian. I don’t want government telling anyone past the age of consent whom they can love, with whom they can live, who is their family for legal purposes, or what they can do with their private parts. Individual liberty does not mean one only has the right to live as a hermit; it includes the right to form bonds with others.

But individual liberty also means the right to disagree.

Your freedom of speech doesn’t mean I have to listen to you. Your freedom of the press doesn’t mean I have to buy your newspaper. Your freedom of association doesn’t mean you have the right to be my friend. And your right to life doesn’t mean you have a claim check to make me feed you, take you into my home, or nurse you to health.

The greatness of the American Civil Rights movement was that it brought about a paradigm shift in how people looked at each other. Perhaps the most eloquent speech of the twentieth century was when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., told us, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The evil of the American Civil Rights movement was when it departed from the individualism in King’s speech, and instead embraced the very collectivism King opposed: judging people not by the content of their character but as special interests defined by their race, color, creed, national origin, gender, and gender preference.

It’s not an accident that this happened. Julius Caesar conquered France by getting the locals to distrust each other and trust only Rome. Politicians today are still using Caesar’s playbook of divide and conquer, setting the rich against the poor, management versus labor, the healthy against the sick, minorities versus majorities.

Listen to Jesse Connolly of the pro-gay-marriage group Protect Maine Equality after a majority of Maine voters overturned the state’s gay marriage law forced on them by Maine politicians: “”We’re in this for the long haul. For next week, and next month, and next year until all Maine families are treated equally.”

Jesse Connolly doesn’t care what the people of Maine think. To him, marriage is a civil right and he’s happy to thwart democracy to achieve it. Not being a proponent of democracy, myself, I am not entirely unsympathetic to Mr. Connolly’s point of view. Democracy has been described as the wolves giving the sheep a vote on what’s for dinner.

But as a libertarian who wants a society in which both my right to associate and the right to be left alone is respected, I have a problem when freedom is not on the menu.

If the only choice is between the power of the majority as expressed through democratic voting — or power blocs of special interests arrogantly overruling majorities by gaming the system — which side am I supposed to support?

Gay-rights advocates do well when they follow Dr. King’s lead and help us to see them not as stereotypes but as individuals.

But when gays make us see them as an arrogant special interest who think the straight majority are ignorant boobs that need to be conquered by political force, then they’re just one more damned lobby out for themselves.

That’s how to lose the debate.

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