Wednesday, January 22, 2014


By The Most Rev. Mark Haverland
January 21, 2014

The idea that society should not legislate morality is simply absurd. Every law legislates morality and expresses a community's ideas about what is good and desirable and worthy of public support. Every law has behind it implicit public coercion and penalties. A libertarian thinks the threshold should be very high before state power is used to constrain behavior. A believer in a very powerful state is more willing to make laws and implicitly threaten us to secure our obedience. But law always imposes ideas about what is right and wrong.

With this in mind, law traditionally and correctly was seen as a teacher of right and wrong, a tutor that inculcates the moral judgments of a community. A change in law indicates a change in what a given society believes is right and wrong and what is worth using power to enforce. So, if a society makes divorce almost impossible, the people are thereby taught something about marriage: perhaps that the marriage establishes a bond that is intrinsically permanent or that the society values stability in families more than the individual wishes of persons who would like to end their marriages. If the laws make divorce and remarriage easy, then people are thereby taught that marriage is more a matter of the wishes and preferences of the persons who marry than of the needs of the larger community.

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