I talk to a lot of people about politics, and I am consistently amazed at how many of them don't fully understand what the Libertarian Party stands for and the principles that it wants to promote. Unfortunately, both sides of the current political media tend to treat Libertarians as either anarchists who want to see the government as a whole topple and fall; or they are treated as the Republican Party's crazy little brother where the only difference is that the Libertarian doesn't read the Bible. Part of this misconception comes from the media's failure to distinguish the Libertarian Party from the "libertarian movement" and from self-proclaimed "libertarian-leaning" Republicans.
There is a hotly contested legal battle happening here in Norfolk this week regarding gay marriage, so let's use that as an example to compare and contrast a Libertarian view against the Democrat and Republican view. The Democrat will stand up and scream "pass a law to force the States to allow gay marriage!!!"; while the Republican will counter with "pass a law to outlaw gay marriage in every State in the Union!!!!". The Democrats and the Republicans both want to use the full force of the government to impose their will on the people. The Libertarian's stance would be "the government should not be in the marriage business". Marriages are recognized by the government for various tax and legal purposes. Some of these examples include the transfer of property upon death, the ability to make medical decisions for one's spouse, as well as many other legal issues that we could discuss.
However, none of these reasons are of a religious nature which is why there needs to be a distinction between a "marriage" (spiritual) and a "civil union" (legal). Over time, in an effort to streamline and simplify the process of obtaining a civil union, the government has co-opted the term "marriage" and has allowed for churches to be recognized as an extension of the State when performing a marriage so that the civil ceremony is performed at the same time as the spiritual ceremony. This is why you hear the familiar line of "by the power vested to me by the State of ....." at the end of a marriage ceremony. It is the pastor, or priest, or rabbi, or whomever, stating that he has performed an official government function and has concluded the civil ceremony.
A traditional Christian marriage is a religious ceremony that joins two people into a monogamous relationship. One of the main goals is to provide a socially stable environment in which to create a family and to try and raise happy, healthy children. To be clear, this is not just a Christian ceremony. All forms of religion have some sort of marriage ceremony, each unique with their own customs and traditions. A civil union on the other hand is nothing more than a legal contract allowing two people to join assets, take advantage of beneficial tax situations, allow for hospital visitations, and so on. A civil union should not have any form of discrimination attached to it, meaning that any two competent adults, regardless of sex, race, religion, or any difference between them, are allowed to enter the union without constraint.
A Libertarian view would be that the government should not recognize any marriage and only recognize civil unions in order to allow citizens to comply with various laws and take advantage of tax benefits, medical coverage, parental rights, estate planning and so on. (We can discuss in other articles how a truer Libertarian view would be that the government should not have to recognize civil unions either, as there should be no need for the government to track who we are involved with, and should not be writing tax codes or laws that give preferential treatment to one class of citizens versus another, but that is an article unto itself. Lasting change has to be made in small steps and this would be a small first step towards getting the government out of our personal life.) There should be no recognition of the word "marriage" in any government documents or applications. It should only specify "Individual" or "Member of a Civil Union".
Before concluding, I do want to address one last point in this argument. Some would say that by recognizing civil unions, it creates a "separate but equal" situation. That would be true if the proposal would be that the government recognize both marriages and civil unions. By separating out the spiritual and legal components involved in the process, and having the government only recognize the legal component, this situation is resolved. Under this scenario, any two people can become legally joined regardless of how the actual ceremony (if there was one at all) was performed or if the couple is straight or gay.
So, as you can see, the Libertarian has never expressed his personal view of whether he thinks that gay marriage is "right" or "wrong". The Libertarian wants the government to get out of the way and allow people to live as they see fit, provided they are not harming any other person's life, property or liberty. And that is what we stand for. This same line of reasoning is how we deal with most social issues. Now ask yourself, are you a Libertarian and just didn't realize it?