Thursday, July 13, 2006

One nation, (out from) under God, part IV

There are a handful of phrases that seem to really set me off, and there's one in particular that I'd like to include in this series. "You can't legislate morality." The phrase seems to be brought up most often in the context of debates on homosexuality and legal matters tied thereto, but it can crop up in regard to any issue that is perceived by non-Christians as a Christian issue. Generally, I think it's crap.

To be fair, I've been thinking about this post for a few days, and in the process of mulling it over, I've realized that there is another side to this issue that I don't often consider. Once again, if one takes context and tries to find out what is meant by the statement, it may be that people using the phrase are saying something I totally agree with, namely that making something illegal won't change most people's attitudes towards it. Most places in this country have laws against polygamy, usage of certain drugs, sex with underage partners, and sodomy, but that doesn't stop those things from being done. Pretty much everywhere in this country and even the world, murder and stealing are illegal, and those go on incessantly. While many people think those items in the first list are immoral, and just about everyone thinks the latter items are immoral, I feel safe in saying that any of these acts are committed on a daily basis by someone who feels no twinge of guilt over them. In the case of the former, it's not real clear that they should.

Yes, if we were to make same-gender sexual intimacy illegal across the nation (as I believe it already is in a number of states), while it may change the sexual behavior of some people, it won't change a single homosexual into a heterosexual, as the definition of homosexual is not one of behavior, but of inclination. As such, it may be very well to ask what the point is of making laws that restrict the rights of what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes. I know I don't want the government monitoring what goes on in my bedroom, and although I am involved in a monogamous heterosexual marriage, it's quite likely if not downright inevitable that there are things I do with my wife that some people would like to see laws against. (No doubt, there are even some people who would like to see any sex at all illegal, although I would assume such people are few and far between.)

It must also be noted as an aside that the "between consenting adults" defense, while seeming to carry much weight, is far from conclusive. Other than perhaps strict libertarians, most people probably would have some reason that they would agree that the government should step in to a situation in which consenting adults are doing something in private. Think of a crack house perhaps, in which consenting adults are behind closed doors selling, buying and using harmful illegal drugs. Maybe you don't think so, but I think law enforcement should step in in such a situation.

With all of that aside, though, I did have an original point that I'm taking far too long to arrive at. Can we legislate morality? I believe that on a purely behavioral level, the answer is not just "Yes" but "Well, what else is there to legislate?" I suggest that not only can we legislate morality, we do legislate it and ought to, because in the end, it's the only reason to legislate.

As I said above, almost everyone agrees that murder should be illegal, and it is. Does it stop murder from occurring? Not completely, that's for sure, but I don't think that the fact laws exist to punish murderers do not stop all people from murdering, and the fact that they stop nobody who wants to murder from thinking about it, is good enough reason to simply not bother. If you believe that a certain action is wrong, then it is not just your right, but I think on some level your obligation to push for laws to be created to avert that action from occurring.

This is where this whole discussion fits into a discussion of the separation of church and state: People complain that it's not right for a president or a representative to push their Christian morality on the rest of the country, but I say, if the president is a Christian, what other moral base does he have to work off of? All of that indeed should be tempered with thoughts of the golden rule, and any elected official needs to think of the ramifications of any legislation they wish to support. If the government is given the right to peek in your bedroom and make sure you're not up to the wrong sorts of stuff, how will you feel about that? Is it really worth the loss of your own right to privacy to catch a few homosexuals in an act that, if it is indeed harmful, is only harmful to themselves? Maybe we even ought to rethink the crack house. What if powers-that-be outlawed alcohol once again, and the police broke into your house, caught you sipping a glass of sherry with dinner and dragged you off to jail? When the FBI comes to the house of a retired president that signed a bill outlawing sodomy, and catches him enjoying oral sex with his wife, how is he going to think about a couple years in the penitentiary?

So, we have to consider the pros and cons of every legislation, no doubt, but in the end, we outlaw certain acts because we believe them to be immoral. We reward things we believe are good, probably through tax breaks. Legislating morality is just what we do, and whether or not it's fair to do so is another issue entirely.

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