I recently received an email from David Lampo, Publications Director of the Cato Institute, regarding a Christian libertarian’s viewpoint on gay rights, marriage, and government intervention.Here is his original question and my response.

This has also led me to begin the process of forming a “Frequently Asked Question” section of LCC, which you will see in the near future. In the meantime, if you have any burning questions on your mind and you want a plumbline libertarian, or Christian libertarian, answer, feel free to drop me a line using the Contact page.

The Question:

Where do you and other libertarian Christians stand on gay rights?  I assume you supported the repeal of sodomy laws before the Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional, but if you really support separation of religion and state (which I assume you do), do you also believe that the marriage license is a secular, nonreligious document and contract that should be available to same sex couples?  If not, why not?  And if not, what form of relationship recognition for same sex couples do you support?  In my view, your stand on this issue is really the chief indicator of where you and other self-described Christian libertarians really stand on the separation of church and state.  Thanks for your thoughts.

The Answer:

There are multiple issues at hand in your question, and I’ll try to address each as best I can.

(1) Where do libertarian Christians stand on gay rights? Homosexuals have the same rights as everyone else. Just as other libertarians have said, your rights do not change based on your sexual preference. Correspondingly, you also do not get special rights because you are homosexual. An individual or government cannot, for instance, force a minister to perform a wedding ceremony against his will. This is simply a re-statement of the non-aggression principle.

Had I the opportunity, yes I would have supported the repeal of sodomy laws before the US Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional. Any activity between consenting individuals should not be punitively punished by the state.

(2) Do libertarian Christians believe that the marriage license is a secular, non-religious document and contract that should be available to same-sex couples? Libertarians in general should not think marriage “licensing” is any better than occupation licenses, and are not within the purview of governmental power. If government has any purpose at all in this arena of life, it is to be a storehouse for consensually agreed upon contracts, of which Christian marriage or other arrangements such as those between homosexuals could be included. However, it is not up to the state to decide how to regulate such contracts.
Christian marriage is an institution of the church, not that of the government. Therefore, the government should have no power to tell churches what they can and cannot do regarding Christian marriage.

Similarly, it is not the right of Christians, regardless of their view of homosexuality, to tell others how they are to arrange their own consensual contracts. Therefore, if a homosexual couple wishes to file a contract and they want to call it a “marriage contract,” then that is their prerogative and I have no right to forbid them from doing so. If they want to call it a “civil union” instead, that’s fine as well. With regards to any tax benefits, of course I support any and all measures to reduce the sum total that the government steals from people, provided that spending is also reduced in corresponding measure rather than the shortfall being printed out of thin air. Taxation and government spending are always bad.

However, not forbidding certain behavior should not be conflated with not approving of certain behavior. Being permissive of lifestyle choices does not entail me agreeing that the lifestyle choice is morally right before God. Such non-agreement is my religious perspective, and thus cannot be used as a rationale to coerce others. To me, this is the essence of being socially tolerant: though I disagree with a behavior I shall not raise an aggressive hand against it. I would use a similar argument to defend any non-aggressive behavior even if I believed it to be wrong.

Most importantly, and I think this is the key point, all of this is only an issue not because of our lack of “separation of church and state” (though I certainly want the government out of the church, it’s far too corrupt) but because we have a state in the first place that constantly infringes upon our civil liberties. Power to regulate personal relationships in any way, including marriage, should never be given to the state. The beauty of the free society is that we can still live at peace with each other even if we do not agree with certain lifestyle choices that others make. What I am proposing in the above paragraphs is simply that restoring civil liberties involves getting the government out entirely.

Thus, there are differing levels to how Christian libertarians must handle this “rights” issue with the state we encounter today:

  1. As it pertains to the United States, we should never condone the Federal government handling any kind of marriage issue. Such legislation would not be Constitutional. Instead, we should promote the elevation of individual rights always superseding the government.
  2. At the state level, Christian libertarians should not support further government intrusion into marriage in general. This is unacceptable power given to the government. For example, I do not think it right for state governments to pass marriage amendments that either legalize or make illegal the practice of “gay marriage.”
  3. Christian libertarians should, in general, support the recognition of all consensual contracts, including those of the “civil union” type. This is especially reasonable considering that any money the government does not steal is a good thing.

I imagine this view could garner much criticism from the Christian community at large, but I find it to be rational and I expect that any Christian who considers himself a libertarian would, upon careful inspection, find this argument to be rational as well.

Thanks for your email, let me know if I have been unclear in any way and I’ll try to rectify it.

Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded LibertarianChristians.com and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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  • I am a Christian and a libertarian. This is the best explanation I’ve heard on the “gay marriage” issue. Thank you!

  • I am a Christian and a libertarian. This is the best explanation I’ve heard on the “gay marriage” issue. Thank you!

  • Great post Jay! Couldn’t have been better articulated.

  • Great post Jay! Couldn’t have been better articulated.

  • Well stated. I would add that our position aligns more closely with the Bible than that of the “Christian right” which seeks to legislate morality. God does not force anyone to follow Him – neither should we.

    Moreover, legislation of this type only creates hypocrites or criminals, never Christians.

  • Well stated. I would add that our position aligns more closely with the Bible than that of the “Christian right” which seeks to legislate morality. God does not force anyone to follow Him – neither should we.

    Moreover, legislation of this type only creates hypocrites or criminals, never Christians.

  • Great post. I think most would disagree with one sentence or two in this (we are all different), but overall I think you’re hitting the issue from all the right angles.

    It seems to me that government intervention in straight-couple contracts is what has led to their demise (e.g. high divorce rates, etc.). The further we move Church responsibilities to the government, the less we see Church responsibilities as….Church responsibilities(?).

    In my opinion, the solution is to move further away from endorsing marriages of any kind. The fact that straight couples have State-endorsed marriage only perpetuates the (false) notion that marriage can be “RIGHT” for anyone.

    It’s just confusing.

  • Great post. I think most would disagree with one sentence or two in this (we are all different), but overall I think you’re hitting the issue from all the right angles.

    It seems to me that government intervention in straight-couple contracts is what has led to their demise (e.g. high divorce rates, etc.). The further we move Church responsibilities to the government, the less we see Church responsibilities as….Church responsibilities(?).

    In my opinion, the solution is to move further away from endorsing marriages of any kind. The fact that straight couples have State-endorsed marriage only perpetuates the (false) notion that marriage can be “RIGHT” for anyone.

    It’s just confusing.

  • In my last comment I meant that we should move away from endorsing marriages via the STATE. I forgot to add that.

  • In my last comment I meant that we should move away from endorsing marriages via the STATE. I forgot to add that.

  • @Joseph: You bring up a very interesting point about government intervention leading to crumbling marriages (if I’m reading you correctly). In general, anything government touches turns rotten. Government is the anti-Midas touch. Thus, by getting involved in officiating marriages, they subtly change people’s perception about what it was, is, and is meant to be – just like self-protection or education. And the further the government gets involved, the more decrepit the system becomes. It’s like Hayek said in The Road to Serfdom, all of these factors lead in a particular sociological direction, first to an irresponsible society then to societal disintegration.

    My brother and I have talked about this on occasion as well.

  • @Joseph: You bring up a very interesting point about government intervention leading to crumbling marriages (if I’m reading you correctly). In general, anything government touches turns rotten. Government is the anti-Midas touch. Thus, by getting involved in officiating marriages, they subtly change people’s perception about what it was, is, and is meant to be – just like self-protection or education. And the further the government gets involved, the more decrepit the system becomes. It’s like Hayek said in The Road to Serfdom, all of these factors lead in a particular sociological direction, first to an irresponsible society then to societal disintegration.

    My brother and I have talked about this on occasion as well.

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  • Daniel Hewitt

    Perfect reply Norman. Thanks for posting this.

  • Daniel Hewitt

    Perfect reply Norman. Thanks for posting this.

  • This pretty much sums up my views on the subject. The best solution is to get the state out of the marriage business once and for all.

    Those in favor of banning gay “marriage” must first address the sin of homosexuality itself. Is that something they wish to make illegal as it was in Old Testament Israel? The problem with that line of thinking is that our nation isn’t Old Testament Israel. Our civil government does not have the covenantal authority from God to punish a particular behavior simply because it is sinful.

  • This pretty much sums up my views on the subject. The best solution is to get the state out of the marriage business once and for all.

    Those in favor of banning gay “marriage” must first address the sin of homosexuality itself. Is that something they wish to make illegal as it was in Old Testament Israel? The problem with that line of thinking is that our nation isn’t Old Testament Israel. Our civil government does not have the covenantal authority from God to punish a particular behavior simply because it is sinful.

  • I am a Christian and a libertarian, and I think you have done a great job with this. Bravo! Its good to see consistent use of the non-aggression principle.

    I was asked this question just the other day, and had the same basic response.

  • I am a Christian and a libertarian, and I think you have done a great job with this. Bravo! Its good to see consistent use of the non-aggression principle.

    I was asked this question just the other day, and had the same basic response.

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  • Mike B

    An excellent summation, Mr. Horn.

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  • Paulo Ghedini

    Dear Mr Horn. I am a catholic , and libertarian as well. I
    simply could not have written it better than you did. What a PERFECT text Mr
    Horn. I have been looking for other defenders of such intersection (religion
    and libertarianism) for some time. I have been very saddened by the anti-religion
    stances of some of my libertarian peers in Brazil. I just found you on the
    internet today, and I already became your fan. I have been writing and debating
    in libertarian websites in Brazil (including Institute Von Mises Brasil),
    fighting those libertarians who insist in associating libertarianism with a necessarily
    atheist view. I have been troubled by that as you imagine. It is a real relief for
    me to know that that are people who think like me, and who also fight hard to
    prove that the values of Christianity, such as love of neighbour, compassion
    and forgiveness are TOTALLY compatible with libertarian beliefs. I would even dare
    to say that the Christian beliefs are the piece of puzzle missing in most
    libertarian thoughts in order to make Libertarianism and Austrian economics politically
    viable and mutually exclusive of misery on earth. Freedom of choice is exactly
    what Christ suggested by-the-way, as you well put. Christ didn’t force anyone
    to do anything, just invited: the free-will principle. And this just one more
    point that brings libertarianism and Christianity together. Socialism, on the
    contrary, misses totally the point by trying to FORCE altruism, a diametrically
    opposite view of what our religion proposes as a way to spiritual elevation. Charity
    and compassion defended by Christians and also by other religions are EXACTLY
    the solution for a world that is at the same time free of misery and free of a interventionist
    and corrupt big government. Nice to meet you Mr Horn. 

  • David Niles Jr

    Mr Horn,
    great post!! i have struggled to find the balance of my faith & Libertarianism, and have boiled it down to this: freewill. We as beleivers have freewill to follow Christ & His Teachings, and as citizens of this nation, to follow the laws of the land. We do not have a theocracy, we look to the world to come as a perfected state, not the current state which is imperfect. Great post

  •  Thank you so much for your kind words, Mr. Ghedini!

  •  Thanks for your encouraging words, Mr. Niles!

  • I am an Athiest and Norman Horn is my hero.

  • JohnWesley1703

    As a fellow Christian Libertarian and attorney, I have only one issue with your analysis.  Although it would be preferable to limit any State intrusion into marriage, there is always the problem of changing religious doctrine.  For example, if a couple is married in a church, their marriage is thus governed by that church’s doctrinal requirements. Curch doctrine  later could be altered to specifically provide that regardless of the reason for a dissolution of that relationship, the wife is entitled to no assets and no support for dependent children.  If the husband then decides to end the relationship (or, say, the wife chooses to due to infidelity or abuse), absent State intrusion into the relationship the wife and children would be left destitute.

  • Marriage can also be considered a form of “contract”, though, right? So in the contract, these sorts of issues would be laid out. It would seem to me even if doctrine changed, that shouldn’t change the contract. Moreover, doesn’t the government have this same problem at an even greater scale, since laws generally change more frequently than churches change doctrine?

  • Mike

    All right, but is homosexuality still a sin according to Leviticus 18:22? And Leviticus 20:13 gays prescribes death penalty for gay relationships. How does it correspond with gay rights and libertarian principles?

  • homosexuality is condemned as a sin in the passage you describe and others in the OT and NT. As a libertarian Christian, I support the right of all people–gay and straight alike–to live their chosen lifestyle so long as others are not harmed or their rights infringed upon. Although I support liberty in this way (including that of homosexuals) I don’t condone what God has forbidden and condemned. I believe in leaving others free to make their own free will choices and leave it to God to decide right and wrong. On the other hand, I will live before all people (gay and straight alike) according to the light Christ has given me. I will endeavor to live as God’s Spirit moves me. Where I have the opportunity, I will tell others of Christ’s sacrifice and love.

  • Great point, Norman! If it comes down to the stability of the church as compared to the stability of the state, the church wins hands down. No contest.

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  • Nate Watkins

    i love the libertarian balance!

  • Nate Watkins

    i’m not against gay marriage, but even if i was, i’d not support any law that made it illegal

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