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Gay Rights, Marriage, and Government Intervention

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.

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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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