Opponents of social conservatives are fond of saying you can’t legislate morality. Of course, that is nonsense; all legislation is morality. Micah Watson, William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Affairs at the James Madison Program at Princeton University, has an essay on this topic that is reprinted at MercatorNet. I strongly recommend the entire essay but the conclusion summarizes Watson’s article quite nicely:
To legislate, then, is to legislate morality. One can no more avoid legislating morality than one can speak without syntax. One cannot sever morality from the law. Even partisans of the most spartan libertarian conception of the state would themselves employ state power to enforce their vision of the common good. Given this understanding, the term “morals legislation” is, strictly speaking, redundant. The real question is not whether the political community will legislate morality; the question is which vision of morality will be enforced and by what sort of government.
Secularists and progressives may dress their positions up as neutral, promoting safety, tolerance or whatever, or being science-based — anything but morality-based. The problem is thinking narrowly about morality in terms of religiously based right and wrong. Morality is always about right and wrong; the basis by which we come to our conclusions is not relevant in defining whether our conclusions should be classified as morality. Promoting a policy for reason of harm reduction (for example, in terms of drug decriminalization or legalizing prostitution) is highlighting safety as a morally good thing to do. The notion that homosexuals should be given special protections under human rights legislation is based on the moral judgment that homosexuality is matter of moral indifference (at the very least) and a moral judgment about those who might dare hold different moral views.
Equality, tolerance, choice, acceptance, even freedom are moral values. As the old saying goes, it is not whether we legislate morality, but whose morality we legislate. Watson’s essay is a sophisticated rendering of that old saw.