One of the major problems I have with some of the ideas of Libertarians is that they misunderstand inalienable rights and their application in government and society. This has led to some incorrect views on some major social issues such as recreational drugs, abortion, and prostitution. I’ll be examining some of their claims in coming posts.
In this post, I’ll examine one of the claims of the Libertarians: that prostitution (if voluntary) hurts no one and should be legal. This claim is false on both fronts. Prostitution does in fact cause harm, even when it is voluntary. It is also a violation of inalienable rights and, since government’s highest purpose is the protection of inalienable rights, it should be illegal.
First of all, prostitution violates the inalienable rights of the prostitute. This is true even if the prostitute wants to be a prostitute and wants the specific act with the specific person. As we saw in Part 1 and Part 2 of my inalienable rights series, God, as our Creator, retains rights to us. Since we are the work of His labor, we are not free to do whatever we want with our bodies. A person’s inalienable rights cannot be given up, even by the person himself, since they are really rights that God retains to His creation. For example, we cannot rightfully kill ourselves or sell ourselves into slavery, even if we wish to. Prostitution is, at its heart, a selling of the intimate self. Such a thing is not permissible, nor should it be.
Prostitution also causes physical, emotional, and spiritual harm to both parties involved. It is not a “victimless crime.” Physically, there is great risk of transmitting sexually-transmitted diseases. Many people who wish to legalize prostitution point to countries where it has been made legal and where medical evaluation and treatment are available to lessen this factor. While the precautions taken in these countries are better than nothing, they can, at best, lessen the risk. They cannot take it away completely.
Emotionally, prostitution is also harmful to both parties. To claim otherwise shows a profound misunderstanding of the nature of sex. Contrary to popular opinion, sex is not simply a physical act. Sex was designed to be a complete merging of a man and a woman in marriage to become physically, emotionally, and spiritually connected on the deepest level. The two become one. Even when used outside the bounds of marriage, sex still connects people. It has been described as “emotional superglue.” During sexual activities, the hormone oxytocin is released from the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “cuddle hormone” and it produces feelings of love, satisfaction, and attachment. It is the same hormone released when a mother cuddles and nurses her child that bonds them together. Regardless of whether two people love each other or have a marriage commitment, the same hormone is released when they engage in sexual activities together. In the absence of a committed relationship, the hormone causes only mental and emotional havoc. To have complete strangers engage in such an intimate activity short circuits the way that sex and sexual relationships are designed to work. It leaves people with a disconnect that hinders their ability to really love and bond emotionally in a marriage relationship. It may also produce feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and lack of self-esteem. Prostitution is especially damaging to women, who are more emotionally vulnerable. In essence, prostitution is simply rape that has been agreed to for a price and bears the same emotional consequences.
Another thing to consider is that, if the john is married, prostitution is also a violation of the conjugal rights of his wife. A husband and wife have a covenantal relationship such that (among other things) they have exclusive rights to each other’s sexual acts. Marriage is, by nature, sexually exclusive. It is designed to be a merging of two selves to become one. It is impossible to give yourself wholly to more than one person; each person has only one self to give. In marriage, that self is given to the spouse. Married couples no longer belong only to themselves, but belong equally to each other. Thus, prostitution steals that which rightfully belongs only to the spouse. Prostitution (of either spouse) violates the marriage relationship by attempting to give part of the self (which belongs to the spouse) to another.
Since prostitution violates inalienable rights and in some cases is a violation of conjugal rights, government should protect these rights by making prostitution illegal. However, even if prostitution violated no one’s rights, society has the right to decide that certain activities will not be allowed as long as they are not thereby violating anyone’s inalienable rights (as we saw in Part 3 of the inalienable rights series). The ability to be or use a prostitute is not an inalienable right. At best, it would be an individual liberty (although, as we saw above, it is actually a violation of inalienable rights). Thus, banning prostitution does not violate any inalienable rights. Prostitution has detrimental effects on society (such as the breakup of marriages, the spreading of sexually-transmitted disease, and the devaluation of women). A society is therefore justified in making such activities illegal without having to prove that the activity directly violates someone’s rights.
Thus we see that the arguments of those who wish to legalize prostitution are flawed. Prostitution does indeed cause harm to both the prostitute and those who use her and also brings harm to society. More importantly, however, prostitution violates the inalienable rights of the prostitute and the conjugal rights of any married participant’s spouse. All of these are good and sufficient reasons for making prostitution illegal.
The response of some Libertarians (like Ron Paul) to the issue of prostitution is to “leave it to the states.” That’s the standard Libertarian response to every issue on which they don’t want to take an actual stand. But this is not the proper response. While many issues should be handled at the state level, no government at any level has the right to allow inalienable rights to be violated.
This is an extremely important point that Libertarians have failed to distinguish. They think they are returning to the fundamental concepts of the Founding Fathers, and in some cases they are, but in this case they promote a view that is totally inconsistent with the principles on which this country was founded. Inalienable rights are only inalienable if the person cannot give them up under any circumstance. This is because God holds these rights and has not granted them to mankind. Thus, as the Founding Fathers understood this concept, inalienable rights imply that a person does not have the right to participate in certain activities – those that violate anyone’s inalienable rights (even his own). Since government’s most basic purpose is to protect inalienable rights, it is the duty of all government – federal, state, and local – to make and enforce laws that make violations of inalienable rights illegal. So if prostitution is a violation of inalienable rights (and it is), then no state or federal government has the right to legalize it.
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