We have all heard it said. It is a common libertarian thought and since all conservatives/classic liberals have a libertarian streak, we have all thought it. Many of us have said it as well, I know that I have. I have said that “you can’t legislate morality.” That was the basis for my comments about same sex marriage – that the government has no business in the marriage business – that is for the church to manage – and it should only be the business of the government in a civil contract sense.
But it occurs to me that the absence of a willingness to create legislation regarding a moral position does present a significant problem.
When you look back at our founding, I think it is at least arguable that the Founders such as Jefferson and Adams DID intend for government, if perhaps not to directly legislate morality, at least to legislate to protect it. An oft cited quote of Adams about the Constitution is that it is only capable of governing a “…moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Jefferson acknowledged our Creator’s role in American public life by writing in the Declaration of Independence that we are “…to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…”
Reasonable people may also disagree but one must acknowledge that Divine Law played a role at our founding, being both the asserted basis for King George III to rule over the British Kingdom AND the reason cited for man’s natural state of freedom in the nascent United States of America. As the individual threads are woven in to cloth, Divine Law was woven into the fabric of this country and became the basis for much of the initial views of morality in America.
There are reasons that history records laws that prohibited abortion and the recognition of homosexual unions. Prohibition of abortion was based on one of the Ten Commandments – “Thou shalt not kill.” Opposition to gay marriage is rooted in the Biblical construct that marriage is a union between one man, one woman in a covenant with God – furthermore, the natural necessity for this male/female pairing is procreation, something that is impossible in a same sex union.
Societies are fluid entities and culture changes over time – America was changed with a Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion and we have continued to change in our views regarding same sex marriage…but where does that lead? If the government has a duty to legislate morality, when is the appropriate time for it to step in?
I am vehemently against abortion and I simply don’t care about gay marriage – my issue with gay marriage is the expectation in the gay community that for straight people to tolerate it means that they must celebrate it, and I refuse to do that. For me the most frightening aspect of government excusing itself from the traditional role of protecting the founding tradition of Judeo-Christian morality is not abortion or gay marriage – it is the path that this moral recusal has put us on.
An example of the rationalization of immorality comes to us from a judge in Australia. This judge has said that incest and pedophilia may no longer be considered taboo – just as gay relationships are now more accepted than they were in the 1950s and 60s. There is an active movement in the US and the UK to “mainstream” the sexual fetish of pedophilia. Just this month at an academic conference at the University of Cambridge in England, a paper was presented that continued this shocking statement – “Paedophilic interest is natural and normal for human males,” said the presentation. “At least a sizeable minority of normal males would like to have sex with children … Normal males are aroused by children.” Similarly in America, NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association promotes the same idea -that there is nothing inherently unnatural or immoral about a sexual relationship between an adult male and an adolescent child.
Where do we draw the line? If governments do not have the authority to create legislative controls over abortion and homosexual unions, why would we expect them to be able to consider pedophilia a crime? Why would we be able to prevent any behavior that deviates from traditional moral codes? What about polygamy, incest, bestiality, prostitution or even euthanasia?
We should stop trying to fool ourselves – governments can and do legislate morality and furthermore, it is both expected and necessary to the maintenance of an ordered society. The question is not whether they can or should but what is the moral basis by which they do it. For the first two centuries of our country our recognized basis was the Christian Bible, now we have decided that following Divine Law is not only less than desirable, it is illegal (by virtue, not of a direct admonition in an of our founding documents but of a letter of Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists). We have lost this traditional anchor and now are drifting on a sea of societal fad and human whim.
I don’t know where this ends. Sooner or later the anchor must gain purchase on the sea floor and the ship of state will be yanked to a halt. In years past, the anchor chain made of Divine Law has held, it remains to see if one such chain made of man’s law will hold.