One issue that has been cropping up again and again in our recent political landscape is the idea of homosexuality and morality in legislation and in particular what is “morally allowable” versus what is not. This has been big especially here in Iowa with the recent buzz concerning the Supreme Court Justices and their past ruling of same sex marriage. Throw in DADT and we now have homosexuality thrust into the public spotlight again. To this point I’d like to raise a very serious question to those that consider themselves against same sex marriage for theist reasons or really any law based on theist beliefs. This can include laws concerning homosexuality, marriage in general, holidays, oaths, tax status, drugs, whatever, I am very serious in this question: Do you really, truly believe legislating morality is the best way to run a Republic?
Now this seems very flippant at first, I mean, we all agree that we should have laws concerning murder and rape and theft and the like. However, we have laws against that in our country not for religious reasons but because of their effects. When we have laws on the books that state “don’t kill other people” it doesn’t say “because you’ll go to hell afterwards” or “it’s a sin”, the law is there to protect people and their property from negative consequences. The law isn’t there to keep people necessarily moral, though that is great side effect (we’re going to assume all the readers of this blog think murder is immoral), but it is there to keep negative things from happening to people. The same goes for theft, for rape, and to a limited extent, certain drug use.
Now, let us turn to other things that aren’t so black and white for most of us. Contentious things like banning same-sex marriage, banning abortion, stopping homosexuals from serving in the military, prayer in the classroom, being religious to hold public office for example. A lot of these topics focus on theist beliefs to justify there being a “do or don’t” attached to them. The proponents of these above mentioned things are advocating them not on their consequences for society but rather on their religious beliefs and their own personal moral view of the world. As a country that is made up of mostly Christians it is very, very hard to see how dangerous this line of thinking is for most people. Social norms and tradition are the best guides many people have for their moral choices and tend to view things through the lens of their immediate environment unless significant effort (read: secular education) is able to dispel preconceived notions. If most of the country as perceived by the individual regardless of how true it is disparages homosexuals in the military, there probably won’t be any outspoken homosexuals in the military. This goes for same sex marriage and all of the other issues mentioned before; it’s all shaped by individual world view. Back to the dangerous bit, the reason it’s all so dangerous to view the world this way and attempt to impose morality through legislation is because you are imposing one world view on a larger society without taking into consideration those positive or negative consequences.
Let’s take Iowa as an example. Same sex marriage has been legal in Iowa for some time now and there has been no huge spike in deviant behavior, no “reduction” of heterosexual marriage, no negative consequences for society. Rather, we’ve seen more beneficial effects as acceptance of all Iowan citizens as equal under the law is a good thing with positive benefits for same sex couples and by being a part of the Iowan community, all Iowans. Where is the argument to legislate that same sex marriage should be outlawed on theist grounds? Where are the negative consequences? Where is the removal of the thin lens of theist community view and an acceptance that there is a world out there that does not exist within that lens.
It is nowhere, that is where. It has no right to exist. Legislating morality results in nothing more than “I do not personally like this kind of thing, so I am going to ban others from doing it”, which is wrong. For those that do not see this as obviously wrong, I don’t like peaches. No more peaches allowed within Iowa because Jason K does not like to eat them. If this seems silly and stupid, that is because it is. This is not a mischaracterization of the arguments against same sex marriage or abortion or religious oaths before office. This is the actual platform that people like Bob Vander Plaats and Fred Phelps operate on.
Now, I’ve harped on same sex marriage a lot because that is in the spot light quite a bit here in Iowa and also at the national level. To get away from that single issue we can bring up another point that is sure to strike fear into the hearts of moral legislatures is this: what if a state was made up of a different religious group? How then do we know where to stop, say, Muslim fundamentalists from putting women in burkhas, or from a Jewish Congress from banning the production of pork products? Where does it stop when we begin legislating how people behave in private or how they are viewed by the Constitution?
The point is it can’t stop and will inevitably lead to conflict and a breakdown of government. When this happens, the biggest losers are the citizens that government represents. This is why legislating morality is not only bankrupt as a political philosophy but also why a government that is secular and apart from any religious taint-and it is a taint- is of paramount importance to the citizens of that nation, state, or even small community. The sooner we as a people recognize that in the grand scheme of things that only scientific consequence-based reasoning is the best way to create law the sooner we can truly understand equal rights and protections under our Constitution as well as equal opportunity in our economies.