In talking about gay rights, we have to distinguish between different kinds of rights. If someone tries to ramp up the stakes by saying that he is talking about human rights, then we have go on to distinguish between different kinds of human rights.
The first kind of right is a liberty right — the right to be left alone in certain specified areas. These are rights we have over against an officious government or a meddling neighbor. I have, for example, the right to keep and bear arms. This right was given to me by God, not James Madison. I also have a right to free speech. I have a right to free assembly together with others exercising the same right. I have the right to worship God as He requires in His Word.
Now in thi0s sense, I absolutely believe in gay rights. Homosexuals are people and habeus corpus applies to them as much as to anybody else. They have a right to a fair and speedy trial. They have a right to not be convicted of a crime on the basis of stupid rumors. In fact, I cannot think of a single genuine right that I have that homosexuals do not have together with me, and for the same reasons.
At this point in the proceedings, someone clears his throat and says, “Umm, marriage? You have a right to marry, and they do not.” But “marry” is not an unspecific verb with no direct object. I have the right to marry a woman, and so do they. A man and a woman together is what marriage is. The fact that they don’t want to marry a woman is their look out. I have a right to own a gun and so does your spinster Quaker aunt. The fact that she doesn’t want to own a gun is perfectly acceptable. But what she is not free to do is redefine everything, and say that gun ownership is very important to her, but that for her, gun ownership means owning a quilting rack.
Marriage was defined by God in the garden, and He wove it right into our identity as having been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Not only did He weave this definition in, He did it with a thread count that we cannot begin to count or comprehend. Redefining marriage is therefore not a project of weaving something else; it is the destructive project of tearing up what was already woven.
But there is more. Liberty rights mean that other entities (like the government or your meddlesome neighbor) have a corresponding duty to respect that right. They respect it by leaving you alone. You buy a gun, and they do not attempt to take that gun away from you. They respect your rights by doing nothing. All they have to be is “not a busybody.” In this sense, such rights are negative rights.
This leads us to the other conception of rights, which are not rights at all. They are “positive” rights, in the sense that something must be given to you. These would be things like the right to “affordable housing,” or a “living wage.” With the gun, you buy the gun and other people leave you be. With the affordable housing, you provide the lack of a house, and somebody else has to buy the house. You provide the need for a job, and somebody else has to pay the wage. Your “rights” understood in this way amount to an obligation on the part of someone else to provide it.
You have a right, and they have a corresponding duty, not to respect what you bought, but rather to buy you something. Your right is purchased with corresponding duties from them. The more freedom you have under this definition, the less somebody else has. So not everybody leaps to do their duties in this regard — enter the government in order that we have somebody to make them do their duty. The government takes money from them in order to pay for the “right” to an affordable house, a living wage, or a hot lunch.
This notion of positive rights is therefore the intellectual framework of slavers. The former, the idea of liberty rights, is the theological framework for a free society. With liberty rights, you pay for your own gun, and other people leave you alone. With the positive rights, under that definition, say that you had the right to gun ownership. This would means somebody else would have to buy you a gun . . . with a gun pointed at them in case they didn’t want to.
So what does this have to do with gay rights? All we have to is ask whether or not anybody is going to have to be coerced in outlandish ways order to establish, say, the right of homosexuals to marry. With negative rights, when a right is recognized and acknowledged, the experience of liberty grows, and it grows for everyone. With positive rights, when such a “right” is established,” real liberty — in all sorts of areas — shrinks.
Go back to gun ownership. A man has a right to own a gun, and the owner of a restaurant has the right to require all guns to be checked at the door. It is his restaurant. Of course, he should also have the right to go the other way too. This is Idaho, at least where I am, and we have one restaurant in town that gives you a discount for “open carry.” It’s kind of endearing.
So say that homosexuals are given the right to marry, as has occurred in a number of states. Do Christian photographers have the right to turn down the job of shooting the wedding? Do Christians caterers get to say “No, thank you. We don’t do gay weddings.”? Do the Christian owners of a bed and breakfast have the right to decline being the scene of the honeymoon? No? Well, then, there’s your answer. Those driving this particular agenda are no friends of liberty.
I sometimes describe the mentality of soft despotism that surrounds us on every hand as the “free chocolate milk for everybody” mindset. So let this be your litmus test. Do I have a right to buy chocolate milk if I want? Or is someone else being obligated to buy me a chocolate milk whenever I want?