In a recent post at The Daily Caller , Kendrick MacDowell wrote that Libertarians are obliged to support same-sex marriage, and argued this on the grounds that “marriage is a government-sanctioned institution and the government has no legitimate interest in the genders of the spouses-to-be.”

I can’t say I’m really a Libertarian, and it’s precisely this sort of thing that prevents me from being one.

To be sure, I have profound respect for much of what the Libertarians have to say. And when they talk about freedom, limited government, free markets, etc., they really mean it. They aren’t merely paying lip service to these issues. When it comes purely to political doctrine, the Democrats don’t need to worry about the Republicans or the Tea Party. It’s the Libertarians they actually need to fear.

But the problem with Libertarianism is its failure to recognize moral absolutes with theistic origins, and its subsequent radical elevation of personal autonomy. They find themselves arguing about whether governments should even exist, and base limitations of personal freedom on the notion that “all individuals have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”

Which brings us back to MacDowell’s piece: Most Libertarians may well agree with his conclusion that they should support same-sex marriage, but his grounds are spurious with respect to the nature and origin of marriage.

He does rightly assert that marriage is a “government-sanctioned institution”, an assertion that some deny nowadays. But he goes on to say that the government has no business concerning itself with the genders of the participants in the institution. The obvious difficulty here is that the participants in marriage are vital to its very nature. And if the genders of the participants are irrelevant, why not the number of participants? And, worse, if the genders and number are irrelevant, why not the species?

The nature of marriage is defined by scripture. That is why the participants are one man and one woman. It’s true that there is a civil aspect to marriage. It is, after all, a legal contract. But it is inherently religious in its nature and finds its origins in Genesis 2. It is a mistake to view marriage as singularly civil or religious. It is both.

Libertarians might see no impediment to having three wives or marrying one’s cat. But the dual nature of marriage simply doesn’t allow for a purely civil view of the institution, one in which it may be redefined to suit any view an individual may desire.

Note: For a bit more on the historical development of the Protestant view of marriage, see my earlier post The Nature of Marriage.

9 comments
  1. Great post Brian… I’m waiting to see if you get flamed 😉

    I agree with you that I have respect (and agree with!) many libertarian positions. This is an example of why I can’t call myself a libertarian. I prefer the term constitutional conservative or common sense conservative.

    1. If?

      Sir host, you have a far greater level of optimism than I can manage.

      Of course, I’d have gone the simple route of disproving the claim by simply listing reasons that the state would have”legitimate interest” in marriage between a man and a woman. Starting with it gives the gov’t a way to make sure that parents are responsible for their children, without the BS that often comes of paternity lawsuits.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you for not calling yourself a libertarian. I am sick unto death of theocrats pretending they are libertarians. You are right, libertarians don’t take theistic-based claims of morality as the foundation for law—they do in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and such places, but thankfully not here.

    Given that marriage predates any scripture it is absurd to try to claim it has biblical or religious origins. It doesn’t. The Christian sects were late comers into the marriage business and Christian emperoros (who presided over the fall of the Roman empire) banned same sex marriage in the 400s. The church, however, didn’t directly involve itself in marriage until much later and it was Protestants who insisted that it be turned over to the State, because they wanted to undermine Catholicism.

    It is absurd to call marriage inherently religious when marriage predates every major religion practiced in the world today.

    1. CLS, um… no since Genesis 1-2 marks the beginning of human history marriage doesn’t predate scripture.

      Also, while you may not like our position on marriage, we’d thank you kindly for not calling us theocrats – neither Brian nor myself have ever advocated for a theocracy.

      1. Brian’s fears about a slippery slope towards marriage between more than two partners are much more likely to come to fruition if we grant that “the nature of marriage is defined by scripture.” Lamech, Esau, Jacob, David and Solomon all practiced polygamy. And that’s to say nothing of Levirate marriage. Scriptural forms of marriage simply have no place in modern society, any more than scriptural endorsed slavery or stoning.

        And to your point Shane, marriage has been around long before Genesis was written, Shane, and long before the first people who even spoke the proto Semitic languages that formed the basis of Biblical Hebrew. Even on a literal reading of Genesis, there is no indication that a formal marriage has taken place between Adam and Eve, since there was no ancient Hebrew word for wife, God only commands that a man cleave to his woman (‘ishshah) in Gen. 2:24. In fact the septuagenet translates it as gunaika, woman, also. It isn’t until the vulgate that the word wife, uxor, is used to describe Eve.

        And to your point about theocracy, I’m not sure what else you’d call somebody who advocates that government “recognize moral absolutes with theistic origins” besides a theocrat. That’s kind of the dictionary definition.

      2. Even if one accepts (the unprovable) notion that Scripture is divinely inspired by God it was recorded by human hands and that can only have happened after the invention of writing. If the author of Genesis was Moses that puts it around 1500 B.C., well after people started formally celebrating pair bonding.

  3. Myers wrote “…marriage is a ‘government-sanctioned institution’…” As a Libertarian, I disagree with this. Why would We the People ever want the government to interfere in our personal relationships? While I morally disagree with homosexuality, I don’t agree with the government banning same-sex marriages any more than thinking the government should give my wife and I special tax status for being married. Marriages should be a function of our personal religions (or lack thereof), a personal bond between two (or more, though I also disagree with polygamy) free individuals.

  4. Libertarians are not required to support same-sex marriage or anything else. Libertarians are only required to refrain from forcing social views on others. Whether one supports gay marriage or not is a personal choice about which libertarianism is silent. Libertarianism’s only requirement regarding same-sex marriage is that we not use force to prevent other people from engaging in peaceful, consensual behaviors.

    A libertarian can be morally opposed to same-sex marriage, and speak against it and persuade other people of its wrongness. What a libertarian can’t do is advocate force to prohibit it.

Comments are closed.

Get CT In Your Inbox!

Don't miss a single update.

You May Also Like

Biblical Grounds For Divorce?

A brouhaha has erupted today regarding comments made by Tom Holladay who…

SBA List Launches National Pro-Life Women’s Caucus

SBA List announced the creation of a National Pro-Life Women’s Caucus to recruit and organize pro-life women in state legislatures and statewide offices.

Carol Forristall Seeks Late Husband’s Seat in Iowa House District 22

Carol Forristall announced that she will run in a special election in Iowa House District 22 on June 27 to fill the seat left vacant by her husband’s death.

Wayne Grudem vs. Greg Boyd: Christian View of Civil Government

I started to read over the weekend a new book by Dr.…