(Photo: REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – A panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference on whether social conservatives and libertarians could cooperate was dominated by the debate over same-sex marriage.
Alexander McCobin, co-founder and president of the Students for Liberty, stressed during Friday's panel the difference between "a political philosophy and a personal lifestyle" and listed various conservatives who may personally oppose same-sex marriage yet accept its legal recognition.
"Just because you believe people ought to act a certain way doesn't mean you want the government to require them to be that," said McCobin.
McCobin argued that gay marriage "is the civil rights issue of the twentieth century," garnering much applause from the audience.
Dr. Matt Spalding, associate vice president and dean of Educational Programs at the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship, argued that from the onset, the founders of the United States looked toward "liberty" instead of "freedom" as how society should operate.
"They chose the word 'liberty' which is a Latin word rather than 'freedom,' which is a Germanic word precisely because they meant freedom appropriate for man. They understand liberty to be under the laws of nature and nature's God. It didn't mean license," said Spalding.
"We want to have the freedom to choose, I precisely agree with that, but we must agree first and foremost on certain precepts according to which we recognize each other's humanity."
Spalding garnered applause when he argued that marriage definition should be about the interest of children and that if the state is to define marriage, it should hold to the traditional definition as a "key to liberty."
Since November 2012, some within and without the Republican Party argued that the GOP's socially conservative platform cost it the presidential election.
Others have pointed to growing support for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization as evidence that the GOP and conservatism in general needs to change with the times on said issues.
This emphasis away from social issues appeared to be present in the agenda of CPAC, as none of the panels focused on abortion or homosexuality and both sides of the marijuana decriminalization debate were present.
Titled "Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Get Along?" the panel was moderated by Tom Minnery, president and CEO of CitizenLink.
In his opening remarks, Minnery discussed items that he liked and disliked about the Libertarian Party from a socially conservative perspective.
"We checked out the platform of the Libertarian Party and there is so much to appreciate in that party platform," said Minnery, who then quoted the pro-sexual libertine portion of the platform.
McCobin pointed out that Minnery began with a "false premise" when relying on the platform of the Libertarian Party to gauge libertarian opinion.
"You can be a libertarian and not be a Libertarian Party member," said McCobin, who argued that anyone who subscribes to the principles of libertarianism is a "libertarian."
The libertarians and social conservatives recognized the need for limited government and for religious liberty for businesses and individuals who may personally oppose same-sex marriage.
The panel, which also featured Matt Welch, editor in chief at Reason Magazine, and Michael Medved, conservative radio talk show host, also acknowledged that a greater ideological opponent could be found with the policies of the current administration.
"Right now we have a common foe," said Medved regarding the Obama administration in relation to both social conservatives and libertarians.
"Right now the forces of big government are on the march and one thing that conservatives and libertarians have in common is resisting it."