Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Rankin Responds:

The Reverend John C. Rankin responded to my post where I accuse him of engaging in "the fundamentalist fallacy." It's an interesting response. Read it here. I've reproduced my rejoinder. He basically denies making the fallacy which I've accused him of and seems to endorse libertarianism as a public policy. Good for him. As I said in the original post, I'm more than willing to make a political compromise with those who don't share my worldview so long as libertarianism is that compromise.

Mr. Rankin: I have no problem with much of what you say; we both seem to define ourselves as natural rights libertarians.

I couldn’t agree more with the following position that you take:

“I want to see everyone’s religious, political and economic liberty maximized. Everyone has the unalienable rights of life, liberty and property, and hence the cognate power for the pursuit of happiness. And in this context, that applies equally as always, regardless of one’s religious or sexual identity.”

What might be useful for you is to appreciate the distinction between natural rights (or “unalienable” natural rights to be more precise), and civil rights.

Unalienable natural rights are non-negotiable and exist prior to civil society and civil society’s entire reason for being is to guarantee those rights. Civil rights are entirely government granted, positive rights. A good government is one that, in the form of its positive civil rights and structure, effectively secures those natural rights, and, in its official government actions, does not otherwise violate such natural rights.

In other words, government, as a baseline, must guarantee the unalienable equal natural rights to life, liberty, property, conscience, and a few other basic things. After that, government may do what it wishes, pursuant to majority rule, so long as those “additional” things in no way violate individuals’ unalienable natural rights.

And government grants, in form of positive rights, plenty of things which aren’t natural rights. For instance, I’d be hard pressed to accept that we have a natural right to healthcare, a social security check, or a public school education. But government *may* (and the key word is *may*) grant such things, so long as in doing so it violates no one else's unalienable rights. (Perhaps these things do violate natural rights. But that’s a topic for another discussion.)

Seen in this way, same-sex marriage — like opposite sex marriage — could simply be a government granted positive right. And you would have the burden of demonstrating how government granting such violates anyone’s unalienable natural rights.

[Update: Let me anticipate a potential "hair-splitting" question. If gay marriage is a non-natural positive right, then wouldn't it therefore be illegitimate for a court to grant this in contravention to majority rule? Not necessarily, the 14th Amendment holds state governments may not deny citizens "privileges or immunities." While the term "immunities" refers to natural rights, the term "privileges" refers to some entirely government created non-natural rights, which are also antecedent to majority rule.]

If marriage itself is an unalienable “natural right,” as opposed to a positive civil right or privilege, then arguably government would have to respect same-sex marriage so that it respects every gay citizen's unalienable right to marry the person whom he or she loves.

Again, the rights of conscience are a good analogy. The rights of conscience are an unalienable natural right. Government must, then grant full and equal rights to not only Christians, but also those who worship and proselytize for false Gods, something that the God of the Bible not only forbids, but also prescribes the death penalty for in the Old Testament.

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