Legislating Morality

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The problem with laws like Proposition 8 (see my last post) is that they are an attempt to force some people’s morality on everybody. Legally, all citizens should have access to the full array of civil rights that the law deems essential (although these can vary according to jurisdiction). One of those rights is that of being able to enter into contracts. Marriage is one of those contracts. The state requires that the marriage contract be exclusive; that is, that it is only between the two parties who are applying for a license and that they are free and clear to enter into the contract. (Otherwise it would be polygamy or bigamy.) Those who are against gay marriage want the contract to be even more exclusive: that it is only between a man and a woman. But their arguments are not legal ones, they are all about their own moral principles.

It makes for a messy society, but moral standards are debatable. They are also make for highly emotional confrontations. The law is supposed to be above emotions. In a way, it is not supposed to have a heart. Laws are enacted for the common good. How is gay marriage bad for anyone except for those who are against it? The law does not force all gays to get married. Nor does it force a person who is against gay marriage to perform the wedding ceremony. If it offends your moral senses, then don’t do it.

The same argument could be made for abortion. There is no definitive proof or consensus about when a fetus becomes a person. It’s a matter of personal belief. If you believe that abortion is murder and a sin, then don’t get one. But don’t force me to have a baby I’m not prepared to have. Likewise, we can’t legislate away gay marriage just because we personally are against homosexuality. Because that’s what Proposition 8 and others like them are really saying: that the majority of the people think that homosexuality is wrong. They wish that it would just go away. And they mistakenly believe that if they deny rights to homosexuals, it will.

If the proponents of Proposition 8 were really concerned about the validity and sanctity of marriage, they should put their efforts into marriage-strengthening programs like pre-marital and marital counseling. They should reach out to married people in their churches and their communities. They should look out for danger signs like financial distress and abuse. Many churches and organizations already do this. But even those that do find that it is not so easy to help people who don’t see things the same way that they do. If we can’t force our morality on another person, one-on-one, then what makes us think that we can force it on a whole society? Or that we even have the right to do so?

In my opinion, laws like Proposition 8 are the lazy way out to deal with a societal problem. In this case it is what to do about gays. Rather than deal with homosexuals as individuals or try to understand or help them, anti-gay people vote in laws that they think will do away with the problem. What a surprise to find out that it doesn’t help! There will still be gays in every segment of society. They will still want to do all that straight people can do. Their desire to have what straight people have will not go away because a law has been enacted.

I think that those who are against gays having it all are fighting a losing battle. There are already signs that society is getting used to the idea of gays as “normal” people. Even though only three states (Connecticut, Massachusetts and California) had given gays the right to marry (and one of those is attempting to rescind that right), many other states are at least considering giving gays the right to enter into civil unions. (For the difference between marriage and civil union, see here.) Hopefully this will become nation-wide and pave the way to full equality under the law.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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