I find that when social liberals debate social conservatives, sooner or later the liberal will use the phrase, “You can’t legislate morality”. I find this argument to be frustrating, inane, and pointless. What I believe is meant here is, “Hey, don’t push your religious or political beliefs on me.” The simple fact is that just about any statute has some sort of moral teaching behind it. For example, if I advocate the elimination of abortion (which I do), I am also conveying the message that life has some value and that parents should not kill their children. None would argue that the above statement is not a moral message. But how about the reverse, does the other side support some sort of moral legislation as well? I would certainly argue that those who stand for the “freedom of choice” do. It is, that I (or you) have a right to privacy and what a person does with his or her own body is no business of the government. The same idea applies to fiscal matters as well. The social conservative advocates lower taxes because he thinks that he has a greater right to his money than the government. The social liberal, on the other hand, would claim that the government should take an active role in wealth distribution so that all people can enjoy at least a minimal level of prosperity. “It’s my money and not the government’s.” That is a moral statement. “The government should provide for the needs of the poor.” That, too, is a moral statement.
How about less controversial issues? Just about everyone agrees that the government should set some sort of penalty for murder (be it the death sentence, jail time, or some other form of punishment). And yet, any law against murder is, in fact, a moral statement. Murder is bad. Same with concept speed limits, speeding is bad. All seek to enforce some level of conformity to accepted societal norms and thus all are ways to legislate morality.
The simple fact is that laws are merely an extension of the morality of the society, or person who created them. Certain actions are acceptable and should be allowed, other actions are forbidden and should be punished. Is that not the principle that intertwines both law and morality?
So, next time a liberal friend, or you yourself use the line, “you can’t legislate morality”, pause to think about what you are saying. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians, constitutionalists, greens, communists, Christians, Muslims, and Jews (just to name a few) all use some sort of personal or shared morality to temper their opinions and legislation. Don’t use the same tired old line to push what you are really thinking. Instead try, “Hey, don’t push your religious or political beliefs on me.” It is far more honest.