If the government did not enforce morality, there would be no enforcement against theft, murder, assault, and the like. It is pointless to try to distinguish rules against such activities from "morality," because even a system that is based on no regulation except against such acts is based on a moral judgment that people should be free to do what they will, so long as there is consent. The fact that this is moral judgment is further supported by the neurology involved, which indicates that even this is "moral" reasoning (see Pinker). Furthermore, the government must enforce moral rules such as equal protection before the law, equal access to voting, and so forth--an array of human rights that are grounded in judgments about how an individual may morally be treated and differentiated. (see Pinker as well for the neurology) Because it is unavoidable that the government will enforce morality, the question is what morality the government may or should enforce. When judges in the U.S. talk about "mere moral disapprobation," what they are talking about is a moral system that allows for regulation based on a mere appeal to a supposedly authoritative moral position (such as one against gays)--a moral system that doesn't require us to consider whether there is social harm. What those judges are ultimately saying is that, while the government necessarily enforces morality, it may not enforce a morality based merely in authoritativeness or community prejudice, but rather its morality must be based on human rights and freedoms.
A community's morals are affected by laws and part of an individual's too. What is legalized and what is illegal has the government endorsing or discouraging certain behaviors. A country also ought to realize that without intervention in the issue of morality, the people only begin to experience decay in morals and experience an increase in immorality.
I struggle to see why this is even a debate; why do we have laws if not to prevent immorality?
We must remember that the government is an authority that exists to maintain a social contract between citizens; and to prevent people breaking the social contract when they are tempted to do so.
As a social contract is based on mutual agreement to act morally and to not act immorally, and the government exists to maintain the social contract, it logically follows that the government should enforce morality.
It does this by making laws.
Laws give good moral people the freedom to act morally without being hurt by the immoral people. Without laws good people are affected by immoral people and to survive most moral people would have to become immoral. This does not mean we should not exercise our personal ethics even if occasionally this goes against the law and as long as it is for the good of humanity.
Little things, such as the Rule of Law that ensures things go on peacefully every day without anarchy, are often taken for granted. The basis for this peace that allows us to live relatively safely everyday is morality itself. Without the government passing on legislations that criminalize stealing, raping or whatever crimes, there would be an unstable society. As a result, the government DEFINITELY should enforce morality in that sense.
The lines blur as to the extent to which the government should enforce morality. For example, issues like legalizing gay marriages tend to have no clearly correct answers - there're always opponents to each side of the argument. Whatever the government chooses to do in terms of whether they legalize gay marriages, it could be wrongly seen as an attempt to "enforce morality", whereas what the government could be trying to do is just ensure long term stability by promoting the majoritarian view. Let me give an example. In asian societies, the concept of gay unions are not widely supported, due to the conservative views related to Asian traditions. If something like gay marriages were to be condoned in society, it would definitely lead to a spark in the faultlines of society. Latent discrimination could occur, leading to conflict between 2 sides. In this case, the government's practical move is to continue banning gay marriages. In that sense, whatever the government is doing has nothing to do with morality, but rather, an action that considers the larger picture, of preventing a conflict that could escalate. When we talk about decisions made by governments, they very often can come into conflict with what we know as "morality". But in certain cases, it's imperative that we recognise that enforcing something "right" may not always lead to desirable consequences, hence the government has to consider more than the theoretical "moral" part of an issue when deciding what to do.
Look at the very basic morals:
Don't murder anyone.
Don't steal stuff.
Don't endanger other people's lives.
These are all very basic morals. They aren't morals in the sense of, "should I sleep with all of the women all of the time?", but they're morals. A person will be able to tell me if they're morally wrong. Laws are a way that society, through the government, says if something is morally OK to do or not.
If we don't give the government power to enforce these things, then you can expect Mad Max to happen, and I sure don't want to be people food.
Looking at marriage, marriage had been conducted in churches and other religious institutions thus defined by religious leaders. The government required a licence from the state to make marriage official in the eyes of government (plus for tax money). Government took morals from a community and became the new definer of what a marriage is.
When people give power to government it is never returned.
Laws shouldn't exist to protect you from yourself. Laws are necessary in society so that action can be rightfully taken against those that feel that they can harm others or exert their will and control over others by force. Laws should not be made just to make me act, think, and feel like some lawmaker that, so long as I'm not harming, cheating, stealing, or generally wronging my fellow man. Punishing a person who hasn't hurt anyone, just because he feels differently or sees life from a different perspective as some lawmaker he's never met before should be illegal.
Christian conservatives often talk simplistically as if the government should enforce whatever moral teaching it finds in the Bible, and that if it would only do so, many of our problems would go away. When it comes to homosexuality, for instance, they say that since the Bible condemns it the government should punish it too. When it comes to divorce they say that government should simply enforce the teaching of Jesus that divorce is only legitimate in the case of adultery or sexual immorality.
The problem with this is not that conservatives are using the Bible to inform their politics. The Bible should inform our politics (see the first post in this series), and we should be free to take our religious convictions into the public square, as should Jews, Muslims, or the adherents of any other religion. The problem is that conservatives are ignoring the difference between the moral law of God and the way in which that law is to be enforced socially and politically. That is, they are ignoring the distinction that Scripture itself makes between what ought to be from a principle of strict morality and justice, and what is possible in any given community of human beings, even one that seeks to submit itself to God’s will.
Let me provide an important example to illustrate this point. In Matthew 19 we are told that the Pharisees asked Jesus whether or not it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife “for any cause.” Jesus responds by appealing to the way in which God created human beings in the beginning, and to the commandment that God gave regarding marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh … What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” The Pharisees, of course realized that they now had Jesus trapped. They knew that the Torah permitted divorce. “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”
What we have here is a clash between the timeless moral law of God – consider it the natural law of creation – and the revealed law of God as delivered to the Jews by Moses. What is higher, natural law or the civil law of Israel?
Yet Jesus answers in such a way as to demonstrate that he was never trapped at all. He indicates that he has no problem distinguishing between three types of law: 1) the moral law of creation; 2) the sorts of laws necessary to address situations caused by human sin; 3) the sorts of laws necessary because of the hardness of human hearts. He declares, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives (Type 3), but from the beginning it was not so (Type 1). And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery (Type 2).
There is a clear distinction between law and morality, and they really shouldn't be treated as one entity. The government can enforce law, but there are still subjects which shouldn't be covered by law, but should morality. The government can prevent actual things like murder, theft and such, but they can't enforce morality.
The main reason for this is that the term "Morality" is ambiguous. If governments enforced laws based entirely on what they thought was morally right, someone else could argue that none of those laws are worthwhile or have anything to do with morality.
Also, we should not rely on everything the government says as being what is morally right. If the government started enforcing laws on morality, we would trust them on what was right and wrong, rather than making the decision on our own.
Morality is an individual's decision on how to live their life. The government governs what laws we live by and most of us agree that those laws are fundamental to our well being and safety. But, with government regulation of morality comes regulation of religion, regulation of thought, and regulation of how to conduct our daily lives. As we have seen in some Middle Eastern countries morality is governed in every way. YOU WILL PRAY 5 TIMES A DAY OR YOU ARE A BAD MUSLIM AND SUBJECT TO EXECUTION. In the United States I think we view morality more as being a responsible citizen. Most of us would assist someone who has fallen or been injured in another way without being told we should. I believe (hope) if we spoke to a hungry child we would buy them some food. I believe most of us would not murder someone because we felt we had a right to. Don't confuse that with protecting yourself against assault because I have a permit to carry a firearm and will use it if threatened. I think, in America most of us have an understanding of a moral code that we live by that does not need government interference.
If a government were to enforce morality, they would have nothing but their own personal morality to go on. Morality is something that cannot be agreed upon. Whose morality would we base it on? How would we decide who base it on? The most moral person? Who is the most moral person? How do we decide he is the most moral person? It doesn't matter, No matter what, enforcing any type of morals will go against the morals of someone else. You could argue that we aught to use the morals of the vast majority. Is that fair? That is a sort of discrimination. That is suppressing those who value different morals than you.
Only religions describe "morality". If we all adhered to the words of God, whoever the hell that is, then we would obey the 10 commandments, or at least seven of them or so. If we broke the laws of the lord we would confess our sins and be forgiven, not hung up as dead meat like the Islam nations do. Dear Mohammed, go poke a pig, and if you do, then fear not, you will be forgiven.