Originally Published in 2016
Gary Johnson’s presidential poll numbers are on the rise. With many Americans displeased by this year’s Democratic and Republican nominees, Johnson’s Libertarian party looks increasingly appealing.
Johnson (and his VP candidate Bill Weld) have sought to strike a middle road between America’s two largest political parties. Proclaiming their platform, “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” the two men hope to gain the 15% poll minimum required to enter the Presidential debates in October.
The Libertarian ideals presented by Johnson and Weld are intriguing to say the least. In the midst of a polarized and bipartisan America, a viable third party platform is a breath of fresh air. It is my sincere hope that Johnson meets the “magic number” to enter the debates this fall.
At the same time, Johnson’s policies have begun to raise even deeper questions regarding the role of moral government. Holding to a minimalist conception, Libertarians preach a political gospel of free choice and personal decision. Johnson recently appeared on a Fox News panel to expound on this theory, but was left puzzled by Editor In-Chief Tucker Carlson’s final question.
Here is the entire discussion (Carlson’s question appears at the 11:34 mark):
This is not the first time that Johnson has failed to give an adequate answer on the subject of polygamy. In 2012, he also refused the question, claiming, “if you talk about those kinds of issues” you will be “labeled as kooky.” He went on to say, “I would hate to have come out of this meeting that Johnson supports polygamy.”
Clearly, Johnson disagrees with polygamy on moral grounds. However, his willingness to uphold gay marriage at the federal level but subvert polygamy to the state level appears to be a contradiction in philosophy. In the future, perhaps Johnson will be able to provide a more competent explanation for this conundrum. Why would same-gender marriage be a federal issue, but polygamous marriage be a state issue? It seems that Johnson is left with only two options:
1.) Gay marriage and polygamous marriage must both be treated at the state or federal level. This would remain consistent with his assertion that citizens should be free to choose their lifestyle.
2.) He must give a sufficient moral reason for valuing gay marriage over polygamy, and point to the standard from which this is derived. Doing this would sufficiently validate supporting gay marriage at the federal level (from his point of view), but would also exclude polygamy from legalization at any level.
Gary Johnson’s confusing response to this conundrum reveals important questions not only for his own ideology, but for all government ideologies. Where does personal choice end and morality begin? What role should government play in morality? What is the standard for this morality? These are not easy questions to answer.
From a Christian worldview, it is my understanding that governments (in any form) are intended by God to directly protect those things shown by Him as sacred. These include life, family structure (marriage, orphans, widows), created image (race, gender, ethnicity), and worship.
These things are deemed as sacred because they are each relationally-rooted and impact how a person understands and interacts with themselves, others, and God. Their relational basis not only pervades all of society, but are in fact those things that hold society together at its core – leaving government with an imperative to protect them.
One does not necessarily need to be a Christian to support these truths. Indeed, many Americans will find them self evident. However, only with a divine moral standard can we find inherent meaning and universal, unchanging principles for their practice. After all, how can we protect that which we cannot define?
It is my prayer that public discourse will turn to some of these deeper questions during the ongoing political season.