NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – At a panel discussion on CPAC’s main stage Friday, libertarians and social conservatives agreed that while they share some core beliefs, they remain at odds over the issue of same-sex marriage.
Tom Minnery, president and CEO of CitizenLink, said there are many things that social conservatives appreciate in the Libertarian Party’s platform.
“Libertarians have led the way in helping us understand the need to cut back wasteful government and to get government out of our lives,” Minnery said. “But we also find this in that party platform: Government does not have the authority to license personal relationships. Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices.”
Alexander McCobin, co-founder and president of Students For Liberty, disagreed with the assumption that being a libertarian means being a member of the Libertarian Party.
“What it means to be libertarian is to be committed to a certain approach to political philosophy where the principle of individual liberty is the most important,” McCobin said.
McCobin said one can be a social conservative and be a libertarian when it comes to public policy, the important difference being the view of what the government “ought to mandate for individuals.”
“Just because you think people ought to act a certain way doesn’t mean you want the government to require them to be that, whether you’re talking about banning Big Gulps or banning certain types of marriage,” he said.
Matt Welch, editor in chief at Reason magazine, said libertarianism transcends political lines, noting that some of the best ideas on political issues have happened outside of the two major political parties.
“Libertarians are perpetually disappointed by the activities of both major parties for various reasons. Sometimes it is because the parties have failed to live up to their own best ideas,” he said.
Besides touching upon some of the common ground that both sides share, same-sex marriage dominated most of the conversation. One of the questions debated was protecting religious liberties of individuals as marriage equality advances across the nation.
“Libertarians and social conservatives can absolutely work together if we realize that we’re both trying to limit the scope of government when it comes to the freedom to associate and act as we want,” McCobin said.
The main issue for the panelists was whether marriage equality should be imposed by government fiat.
Matt Spalding, associate vice president and dean of the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center at Hillsdale College, said it is a violation of religious freedom for a state or the federal government to force anyone to recognize same-sex marriage.
“Even if we disagree, and we clearly do, we must have an agreement on religious liberty,” Spalding said. “There’s a profound, deep and moral and religious objection to redefining marriage. Giving that power to that state is a destruction of the very liberty we cherish.”
Michael Medved, host of The Michael Medved Show, agreed that the issue comes down to religious freedom.
“Right now the key issue regarding marriage is not the definition of marriage anymore, it is one of religious liberty,” he said.
McCobin, however, added that the liberty of those religious institutions that support same-sex marriage has also been violated.
“The kind of religious liberty that has been infringed upon for decades has been the liberty of those whose religious practices support same-sex marriage,” he said. “The government has prohibited them from engaging in the religious practices that they want.”
Medved took issue with the assertion that same-sex marriage has been banned in any state, calling it “a liberal lie.”
Same-sex couples have been allowed to marry, but 33 states do not recognize these marriages as valid.
Medved, however, said he supports adoption by same-sex parents, getting some cheers from the audience.
He said a belief in federalism should nonetheless unite both libertarians and social conservatives and states should be able to decide for themselves without interference from the federal government.
“We right now have a great belief not only in religious conscience and the rights of religious conscience when it comes to marriage, but a great belief in federalism,” Medved said. “The idea that New York and California may have legitimated or recognized or decided that those states should sponsor gay marriage doesn’t mean that Texas should be compelled by overreaching courts or anyone else to sponsor gay marriage.”