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A View from the Altar / Yay for nay on gay marriage
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Yay for nay on gay marriage

The vote in North Carolina shows us once again that when homosexual marriage is put to a vote, it gets defeated by a wide margin even in a liberal-leaning state like North Carolina. Gay marriage lost by a score of 61 to 39. It didn’t just get beaten; it got stomped. That result really makes you wonder why the president thought it’d be a good political move to suddenly “evolve” into a supporter of homosexual marriage, though perhaps the LA Timesconnection with donors explains it.  My own hunch is that Obama knows he’s toast come November, and he’s carving out some good will for his future book sales and speaking tours. (Compare the story of the wicked steward in Luke 16:1-9.)

But the news from North Carolina is a mixture of good and bad. The good news is that gay marriage lost, lost again, and lost big, as usual. Why any of that might be bad needs some explaining.

Why have government at all?

Liberals and their secular constituents see government as the tool for empowering them to boss the rest of us around. In this case, they want to order everyone to show respect for homosexuals.  Typically, liberals are opposed by libertarians and conservatives, a good many of the latter being Christians.

Libertarians and conservative Christians share a lot of political common ground, but here’s an instance where they differ based on what they believe is government’s most fundamental reason for being.

Libertarians view government as a human contract arising out of the social need to keep people from hurting one another. Their basic rule is that government should curtail human activity only if the activity will deprive somebody of life, liberty, or property, either by fraud or force, or when there’s conspiracy to do that.  Truth is, if our government would do this, it would be a drastically better government than it is.  As far as that goes, I’d gladly vote for most libertarians.

Christians view government as a divine obligation ordained primarily for the purpose of avenging crimes against persons and property. In practical effect for most matters, these two positions end up being nearly indistinguishable.

Where things go different in a big way

Conservative Christians and libertarians disagree mostly about matters concerning the treatment of the human body.  Since government is ordained of God and its founding text in (Gen 9:6) finds obligation rooted in the imago dei, the Christian argues that there are certain moral things government may not permit.  To pick an easy example, government may not permit people to have sex with animals.  Libertarians have a tough choice on this one.  They must either revise their basic principles to address this, or else they must shrug it off and say that sex with animals is simply none of society’s business and hence is off limits to government interference.  To a Christian, this is an obvious matter where government can and must legislate morality.  God doesn’t want people doing this because he doesn’t want his image polluted by people committing perversion, and government is his instrument for using force to prevent it.

You could easily assemble a list of other immoral acts where the Christian answer is easy to justify but where our libertarian friends would be forced either to revise their principles or else squirm like crazy.  If a family member dies of natural causes, can relatives cannibalize the body?  Some primitive societies do this.  Why not ours?  Or suppose a woman has been sterilized by a complete hysterectomy such there is no possibility of her conceiving or carrying a child; could she then marry her son, brother, or father?  And of course there are other matters of public order and decency such as outlawing, ahem, reproductive acts or bathroom functions in public.  Even in private, what about that recent Moslem thing involving sex with the dead?  All of these are matters where the libertarian knows what is right but can’t accommodate it by his godless principles.

So now back to gay marriage…

And that brings us back to the matter of homosexuals getting married.  The libertarians ask why this is a big deal since, they rightly argue, nobody’s life, liberty, or property are harmed by it.

The Christian argues two things in return: First, we argue that our libertarian friends are mistaken on their basic principles.  Government is more than a social contract.  It is a divine obligation, so life, liberty, and property are not the only things government is obliged to protect. There are other matters, and we all recognize this to some extent, where government ought to act, and some of these are matters of public decency where the government’s failure to act would undermine its own legitimacy.  Second, since some standards of decency will be enforced, the libertarian has a sort of three-way Hobson’s choice to make.  Either he brings these standards out of a dictator’s head, or he punts the question to a majority rule, or he adopts some sort of outside moral standard by which things can be judged.

Both of the first two options presuppose a government that can impose its own morals upon the populace at will.  Though liberals fervently believe this, it’s inimical to both libertarianism and genuine conservatism.  Moreover, both of those options are subject to a moment’s whimsy regardless of whether the whim is in the mind of the dictator or a whipped-up mob.  For libertarians to have any hope at all, therefore, something has to limit government.

The third option sits squarely the Christian camp where the libertarian discovers (perhaps to his surprise) the only true and lasting basis for limiting government power.  Unhappily for him, though, it involves the government in some moral decisions, although I should add that limiting the power of government is itself a moral decision.

Now for the bad news

I previously said the North Carolina vote is good news and bad news.  It’s good news in that not all Christian feeling in the population is entirely gone.  So yay for the nay on gays.  People know what homosexuality is, and they’re against it, and they’re against allowing homosexuals to coopt the apparatus of government into forcing the rest of us into a show of respect for it.

But the news is bad in that the whole basis for voting on it in the first place shows a dangerous lack of understanding about what the best kind of government really is.  It is an agent ordained of God for a very limited set of purposes.  North Carolina has acted correctly on the morality question, and thank God for that.  But the victory won’t last long unless there’s a real resurgence of understanding about why we have such a thing as government in the first place.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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