The fact is some of the largest issues that get put forward in national politics today should not even be issues. There are actually several problems with legislating morality, but today I am only going to address the practical problem.
Morality is essentially a set of rules which an individual believes to be final in dictating the rules of right and wrong. While there was a time when each nation state had a national religion and thus believed in essentially the same set of moral laws, that time has long passed. What this means is that today there is no longer one moral code subscribed to by a population but many. Moreover, as time goes on these moral codes will diverge. For legislators this means that it is no longer POSSIBLE to legislate morality. Of course in theory a legislature could pass a law dictating a certain code of moral behavior. But, barring the existence of an absolute police state, it is not possible to force people to behave according to a moral law that they do not subscribe to.
One would think this was obvious by now. With excellent case studies such as Prohibition, it should be clear that the result of passing a law which a large portion of the population disagrees with is flagrant violation and lawlessness. But somehow our elected officials still cling to this misguided notion that they can force their constituents to follow a moral dictate with slim majorities. The result is apparent today. In California, where most of the population has virtually no problem with marijuana, it is grown and sold openly. medicinal marijuana use in California is now far beyond the federal governments ability to crack down. In fact drug usage in general has gone up in the United States since the war on drugs started. As liberalism has expanded into the realms of sexual freedom, there to has it now become impossible to enforce rules against homosexual relationships and abortion. Yet people still try.
This is not a failure on the part of the “moral” to enforce their beliefs. This is a symptom of people trying to take the wrong approach; the theoretical “easy route”. The notion that by making a moral belief “the law” will cause people to follow it is flawed. People put their own moral beliefs above laws. In fact, our society encourages, and rightly so, civil disobedience in the face of laws one disagrees with.
In fact, if you want to spread your moral beliefs, or make other people more “good” the ONLY way to do this is to convince them that your morality is worthy of being upheld. Tyranny, even of the majority, is doomed to fail in a developed democracy. I say this despite agreeing with the intent behind each of the aforementioned moral laws. The fact is I have voted against laws which enforce the morality that I subscribe to precisely because I understand that significant portions of the population do not agree. You can only use such moral laws to codify widespread beliefs, not positions on an open issue.
Let me give some examples:
Thou shalt not steal. This is essentially a moral judgment. One could imagine a hypothetical society when steal was acceptable. But well over 99% of our population agree that stealing is wrong. So the moral is followed naturally by virtually everyone, and the law can be enforced on those few who violate it.
Thou shalt not kill(murder). You should notice again these are derived strait from religion. Yet, most of us are in agreement that killing is wrong. I cannot even conceive of society were arbitrary murders were acceptable. This law is also naturally followed by virtually everyone, and the law can be enforced on those few who violate it.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Again this is is still a law in our society at least in a court of law. A vast majority of people seem to agree that lying in court is wrong and thus the law can be enforced. Again I’d like to emphasize that in order for the law to be functional it has to be subscribed to by most(90%+) people prior to enactment.
Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. This law, or more accurately laws forcing certain businesses to be closed on Sunday are still on the books in many places. Such rules are already flagrantly violated and are being phased out of our legal codes.
Thou shalt not commit adultery. Interestingly, this is found only rarely in remaining laws mostly only on local levels. Likely, this is a result of the fact that despite widespread agreement with it in principle any such law became unenforceable in modern times.
Why does this happen? When people find laws they strongly disagree with, they break them. This is only natural. When a law forbids an action many people want to perform, they find ways to hide. They form societies that privately indulge in such law breaking. And perhaps worse, these societies have the potential to act as gateways to worse lawbreaking of more widely accepted laws. I would go so far as to claim that moral laws passed by slim majorities make society less moral, not more moral. So if you seek to make people act “morally”. Convince them, don’t force them.