Legislating morality

June 6, 2011

Jeff Baity, writing to the editor in the Winstom-Salem Journal, argues that "The question is not whether we should legislate morality but whose morality will we legislate?"

Several letters ... have recently been written opposing the conservative right's attempt to define marriage as strictly between a man and woman. The term "legislating morality" is used to describe what should not be done in the political realm. According to the various writers, it's wrong to legislate morality.

However, every civil law in the United States is legislated morality. Even the speed-limit signs are based on the moral belief that human life must be protected. Without someone's sense of morality, there would be no law in this country. To say that legislating morality is wrong is a misnomer. The statement is not even valid.

Baity is a self-described conservative Christian with whom I would likely disagree on many moral matters (in the letter, he is arguing against marriage equality), but his methodological approach makes some sense. Indeed, it reminds me of something I wrote back in April 2010:

... I do not think we should be worried about morality influencing our laws, for our laws and morality cannot be separated. Our moral beliefs and values -- whether religious or secular -- are about how to deal with the suffering, happiness and welfare of sentient, conscious creatures on Earth, which means they will surely influence social and public policy. It is fine to moralize so long as the moral views are supported by reason and evidence.

What are your thoughts?


#1 Rayanne Stemmler (Guest) on Tuesday June 07, 2011 at 7:02am

I think we would all benefit if the US government focused on ‘human rights’ rather than ‘christian rights.’ If 2 consenting adults are willing and able to enter into a legal, contractual agreement there is no valid reason for restricting them from doing so. Just because they both have a penis (or lack one) should have absolutely no bearing on their ability to enter into a legal contract. Marriage is a legal contract. If churches don’t like it they don’t have to participate in marrying same sex couples. Why are we having such trouble with this issue? Bigotry, plain and simple.

#2 Randy on Wednesday June 08, 2011 at 1:50am

I think you and Baity are correct.  Our laws are the expression of our common morality (as approximated by the error-prone political, legal, and enforcement processes).  What is generally opposed is the legislation of narrow morality.  Note that a small group’s issues can be part of the common morality.  LGBT equality has moved from being perceived as “narrow” to being “common”, which is why we get support far in excess of the roughly 2-10% we’re supposed to be.  People know us and relate to our issues.

#3 Chantal Yacavone (Guest) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 at 12:12pm

Correct me if I’m wrong, but, throughout history has not morality often been narrowly defined in an effort to control a certain segment of the population? And was it not defined by a religious institution rather than a civil institution? We are only just beginning to play pretend at living in a secular society. We still have a long way to go to truly shake free of religions influence. Most of what is labeled as “moral” today is simply religious bigotry and law designed to keep the group cohesive.

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