In our last post, we were discussing the various uses of the term civil right. What I pointed out at the end of the previous post is really quite straightforward: in any system of civil rights, nondiscrimination must presuppose non-criminality. So clearly the question must be answered as to whether or not homosexuality is a criminal act.
To determine whether or not homosexuality is a civil right (in senses one and three [found here]), the questions that we must ask is whether it should be treated as a crime by the state.
It should be observed immediately that no one can escape appealing to a definable moral principle or system when he answers the question of homosexuality as a civil right. One simply must not overlook the interdependence between ethics and civil law. Just consider the category of nondiscrimination rights. Christians have good reason to oppose making homosexuality such a right. While I absolutely feel that discrimination based on involuntary hereditary facts of physical conditions is immoral, I take a different attitude towards acts that are sinful, that is, willful transgressions of the Law of God. In the case of some sins in some situations, we would want to discriminate against those guilty of the sin; we would not think of hiring a kidnapper as a playground supervisor, or a drunk as a school bus driver, or a known thief as the treasurer of our company, or a prostitute as a babysitter.
The point I am endeavoring to make is this: no matter what the pundits may say, the question isn’t whether or not we are going to legislate morality. The question is which moral code will form the basis for legislation. If we approach the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and take biblical law as an expression of God’s absolute moral will for man’s behavior, then we must conclude that homosexuality is a perverse sin. But having turned from a consideration of homosexuality as a sin, we must turn to a consideration of homosexuality as a crime, from the personal to the public dimension, from the response of the church to the response of the state.
We must distinguish between being right and having a right. This distinction can be seen in the following statement: “It is right to contribute to the Red Cross, but the Red Cross doesn’t have a right to contributions.” This means that although it is permissible and good to help the Red Cross, the organization itself does not have a claim upon such help (as though it were my moral duty to contribute).
Such a distinction is possible because we recognize a difference between interpersonal obligations in a social context and wider obligations in a more general ethical context. In other words, there is a realm of private morality and immorality which is apart from the public claims and corresponding duties that the state enforces with civil sanctions. These two spheres cannot be strictly equated without making the state God. Therefore not all sins are crimes. For that reason, to say that homosexuality is not right (i.e., is immoral and sinful) is not to say that it is not a right of people in society (i.e., that it is a crime). Therefore, Christians may hold on biblical grounds that homosexuality is sinful without automatically settling the question of whether homosexuality should be seen as criminal by the state.
On the other hand, the distinction between being right and having a right does not prove that homosexuality is a civil right; after all, some sins are also crimes as well. Not only do we deny that rape is right, we also deny that anyone has a right to rape. So then, the question before us is not whether homosexuality is right, but whether people have a right to pursue homosexual relations.