Wednesday, February 08, 2006

S'morality

What is the role of the government?

I would answer that it is the government's duty to promote the health, safety, morals and general welfare of its citizens.

Yes, that's right. Morals. I believe firmly that it is the government's duty - and I mean duty, not just privilege - to regulate based on morals. This means that if something is deemed to be immoral, then the government should enact laws and regulations to criminalize, penalize, dis-incentive, or otherwise limit that behavior. So if we think excessive cruelty to animals is immoral, then things like cock fighting should be illegal, or at least discouraged. And if we think sodomy is immoral, then sodomy should be illegal, or at least discouraged.

The view that the government has the responsibility to implement moral legislation is historically the norm. It can be seen in the 10 commandments. It found philosophical support in Aristotle. It has continued - and continues still - to the current day.

And yet, for some reason, this view seems to be under attack. Many of my peers argue that the only legitimate reason for government action is to prevent harm. And by harm, they mean to exclude moral harm. Instead they seem to mean that government can only act to protect the life, health, and safety of the public and public goods (i.e. the environment).

This idea has also found expression in Supreme Court cases, most notably Lawrence v. Texas, where the court struck down a Texas law prohibiting sodomy. They said "The fact that the governing majority in a state has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice."

I, for one, find this view to be simply absurd. First, as I've said, it directly contravenes millennia of historical, political, and philosophical wisdom. I mean, what is the role of the state? I believe that it is to promote a good citizenry. And a prerequisite of a good citizenry is, as Aristotle taught, a moral citizenry. In addition to helping citizens be alive and healthy and economically prosperous the government is charged with the task of helping them be good people.

Secondly, the view that the government shouldn't legislate on a moral basis is absurd because the government can't help but legislate on a moral basis. This is true in 2 ways. First, when the government says "don't kill people" they are making at least 2 statements. They're saying both "killing hurts people's physical well being" and "killing is immoral". The moral judgment is inherent in any law that tries to prevent harm. The government is, in an objective sense, engaged in moral legislation whenever they say something is illegal.

But secondly, every governmental choice to make something legal or illegal is a moral choice. When the government says "we're not going to say cock fighting is illegal" they're basically taking a stand against those who say cruelty to animals is immoral.

And when the Supreme Court says "Texas, you can't outlaw sodomy", then the Court is saying "sodomy is permissible". And when you say something is permissible, you are, by definition, saying "it's not impermissible". Of course, saying "Sodomy is not impermissible" is a direct rebuke of those who would say "Sodomy is impermissible".

There are those who would say that the State should leave the moral decision to the individuals. And the only way to do this is for the State to take a neutral stand, which is what it's trying to do by making things permissible.

The problem with this view is that the whole concept of a neutral position is flawed. There is no neutral - something is either morally permissible or morally impermissible. So even an attempt at neutrality is a moral stand in favor of permissibility. Quite simply, regardless of what they're trying to do, the government is taking a moral stance one way or another. I, for one, say that governments should acknowledge and embrace this role, and feel free to make moral decisions.

After all, that's their job.

Don't act like it's not happening
As if its impolite

32 comments:

the marvelous patric said...

whose morals do we use as a guideline then?

Ben said...

As a Christian, I disagree with you. To make my point, let me cite someone who has thought about this a lot more than me, Thomas Aquinas:

"Human government is derived from the Divine government, and should imitate it. Now although God is all-powerful and supremely good, nevertheless He allows certain evils to take place in the universe, which He might prevent, lest, without them, greater goods might be forfeited, or greater evils ensue."

"Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority, rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain greater evils be incurred: thus Augustine says: 'If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust.'"

Whether Augustine's policy analysis about prostitution is correct is not really my point. My point is that, as a Christian, I recognize that governments cannot change human nature. And guess what? Human nature sucks.

Christian thinkers from Augustine to Luther to 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr believe the role of government is to restrain that bad nature as much as possible for the overall good of society. (Niebuhr happens to extend that principle to restraining the selfishness of the wealthy and middle-class by creating a welfare state. But again, I digress. Let me try this again....)

My point is that, since government cannot totally change human nature, it must make some concessions to our immorality. For example, one might argue that outlawing private homosexual sex creates too much danger of an oppressive, 1984-style state invading people's privacy and controlling their lives. Allowing people some freedom to be immoral avoids the greater evil.

I think the balance struck by contemporary American liberalism - "government can't outlaw something for moral reasons unless there is a separate physical or economic (or other?) harm" - is as good a balance as any.

Matthew B. Novak said...

I'll post more later, but just a quick response to Ben -

While people can disagree about the wisdom of enforcing particular ideals, certainly you agree that it is the role of government to create moral legislation?

the marvelous patric said...

i do not agree with your idea of the role of the government to make moral legislation. or, am i misunderstanding something, meaning that legislation based on morality is something else, not what you mean?

Ben said...

Patric, I have no idea what you just said.

Matt, for reasons of its limited ability to change human nature and the (usually negative) consequences of its failed attempts to do so, I do not believe it is the role of the government to "legislate morality" (as that phrase is commonly understood).

Of course, I think the common understanding of the phrase is tragically limited. Gov't policy toward the poor and the environment are moral (and, I believe, Biblical) issues. In that sense, I believe the government should be making moral legislation.

But that's not what I think you are referring to. You are referring to legislation aimed at affecting or reinforcing people's sense of right and wrong, apart from any other policy considerations. Because I believe only divine intervention, not government policy, can get people into the proper understanding of right and wrong (and yes, I believe there IS a proper understanding) and because I believe attempts to do so through government will have other evil consequences...I oppose your version of moral legislation.

And now I'm repeating myself.

I'm consciously coming at this from a Christian perspective. Those who don't share my religious beliefs are free to look at this from another angle, of course.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Ben - Interesting that you say you're coming at this from a Christian perspective. What you mean, of course, is that you're coming at this from an Americanized, fundamentalist Christian perspective. I too am coming at this from a Christian perspective, that being a Catholic Christian perspective. Of course, my thinking, in addition to having Christian roots, has some other philosophical roots.

But a couple of points need to be made:
1. I return to the fact that no matter what the government is doing, they are taking a moral stance. Until you deal with this fact, I don't know how you can deny that government should do moral legislation.

2. Aquinas - who you quote - informs much of my thinking on this (I've been fortunate enough to study considerable Natural Law theory, some on my own, and some with one of the foremost thinkers on the topic). Though Aquinas would acknowledge that it might not be wise to make everything illegal, he would, nay, does claim moral legislation to be a worthy pursuit of government. See for example his second article in his Treatise on Law. In that he refers to "Happiness" as the final goal of the State. And "happiness" - in both Aquinas and Aristotle - means a heck of a lot more than feeling pleasant. It also involves, very essentially, moral correctness. Thus, it is the aim of the state that people should act morally correct.

3. It would seem to me that, whether or not the State is changing people's natures or not is irrelevant; their goal remains making people better off, in every way. You can restrict someone's actions without making them change their nature. There are certainly people out there who have it in their nature to do violent things, yet the law attempts to prevent and minimize those things from happening. It's not aimed at changing human nature, per se, but rather at getting action to conform to ideals. Morals - whether derrived from human nature or other ethical precepts - are part of the composition of those ideals. Therefore, government should aim at having people act consistent with those morals.

4. You say, "Gov't policy toward the poor and the environment are moral issues. In that sense, I believe the government should be making moral legislation." You're right. I completely agree with you on this point, and in fact, this is part of what I'm arguing for. I am also "referring to legislation aimed at affecting or reinforcing people's sense of right and wrong". I think the two are completely unseperable. I think any division between the two is artificial. If the government is taking a moral stance against poverty, why in the world shouldn't they take a moral stance against other immoral activities?

5. I think we have some very deep philosophical differnces regarding human nature. It seems to me you have a deep-seated conviction that human nature is fallen, sinful, and can only be altered through Grace, accepted on a personal level. My view, while acknowledging the fallen sinful nature of humans, also remembers that the Divine Law is written on each of our souls, be we saint or sinner. Furthermore, we are altered through Grace. But it happens in so many forms. One of those forms is government. To steal your Aquinas quote back from you, "Human government is derived from the Divine government". Now, if there's one thing that has the power to change human nature, it is Divine government, whether applied individually through the Grace recieved in an act of faith, or whether applied by creating in people an inherent sense of right and wrong. And if human government derrives from Divine government, then surely human government has some power to shape people's nature.

6. I would also point to the real-world ways in which human government changes people's nature. Consider, for example, contraceptives. They were largely condemned in Christian churches throughout the early part of the century. And really, they were condemned in pretty much all Christian churches. The the Supreme Court said states couldn't make them illegal. Here we are, 50 years later or so, and contraceptives are widely accepted as not-morally offensive. Government, by making something not-illegal, creating an impeteous which changed people's moral behavior. Or take incest, which worked the other way. It was widely practiced in many cultures throughout history. In societies where the government has said it is unacceptable behavior it has also been condemned morally. So I think before you question government power to alter human nature (or at very least human behavior/perception), you need to deal with the reality which shows such an effect.

7. Finally, you said before that "I think the balance struck by contemporary American liberalism - "government can't outlaw something for moral reasons unless there is a separate physical or economic harm" - is as good a balance as any." Here, I again disagree with you. The reason being that I feel such a position shirks the government's duty.

A position like this wouldn't criminalize prostitution, beastiality, incest, use of many now-illegal drugs, or cock fighting. Some of these you might be able to point to some attenuated harm down the line (i.e. prostitutes might spread diseases), but certainly there would be other ways to regulate those problems (i.e. monthly testing, ala Nevada).

I also wonder about your "liberal" position's implications for social programs which are aimed at creating a better citizenry. If the goal is only to prevent harm, you'd have a hard time arguing for programs which support the arts, things like public television, public education not specifically tailored to math and science, etc.

I think the way to go is to recognize that the government does have a role in making us better - happier - citizens. And that involves doing things to promote good moral behavior, whether through altering human nature or simply coercing it. Sorry this got so long - hopefully the numbered points help keep track, if you want to respond.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Patric - see my response to Ben for your second comment. I think I touch on that, if I understand what you're saying.

Also, to answer "whose morals?" there are 2 simple responses.

1. In a democracy, the majority's morals. Like when we used the majority's moral view against polygamy to alter the law in Utah.

2. I believe that morals are the product of 2 things: human nature, and reason. Our moral views are informed by our own being, of which we all share in some part - every functioning member of society has some sort of conscience or other self-governing mechanism which shapes their views. Humans also respond to reason. So if you ask me "why is killing wrong", I can give you a handful of reasons, which you'd be hard-pressed to respond to. Hopefully, given those reasons, you'd be convinced that killing was wrong. I believe similar reasons can be given for all true moral positions. And cannot be given for non-moral positions. Notice that "Because God said so" is not a moral reason. Now, appeal to human nature, which reflects Divine Nature, can be a reason. But they're very different things. Anyways, suffice it to say, people can be convinced to take a particular moral view, and to change their moral views. Just like they can change their minds on policy questions.

So the question "whose morals do we use" is really a non-question. In a democracy, we rely on citizens to discuss and evaluate the moral positions presented, and reason to the best view. Then, the majority should win out. And, if the system works right, a majority of people will accept the best-reasoned position, creating the most moral society possible.

emnovak said...

even having taken an ethics class and being in both biomedical ethics and social/political philosophy, i still feel unprepared to discuss this sort of thing. why is that do you suppose? although i would like to say that the government, whether or not it is right, does attempt to regulate morality in some way. and i also feel that because morality and moral issues are involved in so many aspects of life, there is no real way that the government cannot help but regulate morality.

Ben said...

Stealing a moment in between my reading of the Endangered Species Act and the Internal Revenue Code, I will provide several scattershot responses which (I'll admit ahead of time) do not refute your main point. Mostly this is because I do not wish to put in the time and effort tonight to refute your main point...although it may be that I also cannot refute said point.

By saying I'm "coming from a Christian perspective" I did not mean to imply that mine was the only Christian perspective. If there's anything that studying Christian thinking re: law & government has taught me, it's that Christian thinking is not a monolith. I do, however, take umbrage to being called a fundamentalist. There was a time I would have taken pride in that label, but it's been too polluted in my mind by the Pat Robertsons of the world.

That said, I bet a lot of our disagreement stems from the fact that you are Catholic and I am Protestant. In keeping with traditional Catholic natural law thinking, you believe that there is still some part of human nature that is good and reaches toward the divine. As such, you would be more optimistic about the chances of government policy doing some good with people and morality. I'm a Protestant and, in keeping with theological peeps like Luther and Calvin, view human nature as radically fallen. Apart from divine intervention, I don't see much hope for moral transformation. That might make me more skeptical of government efforts to affect morality.

One last, entirely unrelated, point. I generally support legalization (and regulation) of most illegal drugs. The War on Drugs seems to be failing and causing massive collateral damage in the process (i.e. more and more non-violent offenders in jail, thus creating more fatherless homes, leading to a whole host of problems). This might be an illustration of my point about some attempts to regulate morality creating greater evil.

Some time, I may tie all this together into a coherent response. In the meantime, I leave with 2 thoughts:

1) I didn't mean to make this into a debate about Christian theology. It's where much of my thought goes, but I bet others could address this blog post on an entirely different level.

2) I can't believe I spent all this time writing this post. Back to tax law for you, Ben!

the marvelous patric said...

so if it's the majority's morals, then morals are allowed to shift over time and are not absolute? because think of the fact that it was once widely considered immoral to divorce. so, according to what i understand of what you're saying, the government should have made divorce illegal? isn't this the same kind of thinking that gave us prohibition? and we all know how that turned out. of course, we could go on about this the rest of our lives, and i don't have that kind of time. for goodness sakes... i have comics to draw!! :-) so, i'm just going to say that i don't agree with you and think you're wrong.

Matthew B. Novak said...

You can't just say you don't agree without addressing the arguments I put forth.

Also, yes, what the majority views as moral does change - and it should, given that reason has the power to persuade. With time, people should be persuaded to one view or the other.

Finally, we can discuss the particular wisdom of making any one thing legal or illegal - prohibition is a great example. There was a time when a great number of people in our country felt any consumption of alcohol was immoral. Over a relatively short time frame, people who disagreed were able to convince a majority of citizens that consumption of alcohol itself was not immoral. Ever since, the prevailing idea has been that consumption of too much alcohol is immoral. Which happens to be reflected in the law today. That's exactly how it should happen. The system works.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Ben -

I meant no offense when labeling you a fundamentalist. I don't see it as a dirty word - At least, not for the reasons most people would - ;-)

I just meant it as a general descriptive handle. I think simply identifying yourself as Protestant though is a bit misleading, since there are also many Protestant denominations who would actually line up more closely with Catholics on this point.

That being said, I think you're right, we do have some deep-seated philosophical differences. Despite this fact, I don't think we're completely seperate in our thinking. Just like Protestants, Catholics believe that people can only be saved through Grace. I further believe that both faith and reason lead us to know God and recieve His Grace. I think if anything, that's where we differ. It isn't on the nature of humans - we're both pretty well convinced that human nature is fallen and in need of God's Grace. It's rather on how that Grace becomes experienced by people.

Anyways, my whole basic point was that the reason I have hope in the law changing people into better persons is because the law derrives from the Eternal law - so basically I see it as a tool of God's.

I'm also curious to ask you though, do you think people are born with God's Eternal law written on their nature? Or do non-Christians have no way of knowing God's Will?

Sorry, this last point is really getting into Christian theology, and off topic. I'm really interested in this though. I'd appreciate an e-mail on the topic, if you're willing. mbnovaksju@yahoo.com

Jeff said...

First off, we definitely need to do away with sodomy. Our immigration laws are obnoxious, and so is Tom Tancredo.

That probably only made sense to Ben. Oh well.

A few free-floating counter arguments that are all related somehow:

1. Let us assume that government has the duty and ability to prevent moral wrong and encourage moral right. This implies that the government must have access to an arbiter of wrong and right. I submit to you that the only such arbiter that exists is God. Therefore, government, an edifice of mere humans, cannot enforce that morality that is given to us by God. So what "morals" would government be promoting? (I think I answer this in point 4.)

2. Our country was founded on its own set of morals, and they provide us with some implementable guidelines. This is, essentially, our Constitution and the moral outlines in the Declaration of Independence. According to our social contract, government should: ensure our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; promote the general welfare; provide for the common defense; ensure domestic tranquility; secure the blessings of liberty yadda yadda yadda. We must be careful not to be led to believe that our social contract allows us to introduce our religiously derived morals into government. (This is, of course, an idealized view - in reality, the morals of the constituents of the government can add and subtract morals by sheer force. Doesn't mean it's right. I'll get to that later.)

3. Recall as well that our national edifices exist as a preventative against a "tyranny of the majority." We agree upon some morals by living here - we can't force people to live by other morals simply because holders of those particular moral beliefs are in the majority.

And we certainly can't say that we believe a majority opinion is always the right one. After all, you're anti-abortion, and more than half of Americans are pro-choice. To you, the majority is (pun time) dead wrong.

4. Representative government is inherently reactive, not proactive. Government can no more dictate morality to a society than I can. It does, however, reflect prevailing moralities and their constant change. Lawrence is a perfect example of this; recall that it overturned a decision made only eighteen years before. Lawrence would not have occurred without the beginnings of acceptance of homosexuality in our society.

The result is this: unless you believe in the moral inerrancy of a vast majority of the people, government can't be trusted to whip the "immoral" into line.

5. I further submit to you that the view that government has the responsibility to implement moral legislation has been under attack for quite some time. Roger Williams disdained the idea, saying that all people should have what he referred to as "soul liberty." That was some 350 years ago. It should come as no surprise that Williams' ideas influenced our nation's founders in this regard.

(In fact, Williams' writings sound a little bit like what Ben was quoting from Aquinas.)

I'll remain out of the Christian theology debate. My knowledge of Christian theology could fit in a thimble, and you'd still have room for the finger. Also, I'm Jewish.

God knows whether this comment will make any sense when I read it tomorrow morning.

Emily said...

fyi I'm not reading this post because it's too long.

And that song is so annoying! But I don't know what it's called. Probably when doves cry or something.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Jeff -

A couple ideas need to be made in response. I'm gonna mix up the order here though. I'm going off of your numbers.

5. Yeah, it's probably been under attack for quite a while. Philosophically I'd say Hobbes and Mill were influential. So there are deep roots, I just think we're seeing it play out in some very concrete ways today.

4. I submit to you my example of contraceptives. Yes, government is reactive. But it is also hugely influential. And, it can be proactive in one very definite way - through the courts. They aren't reactive in the same sense the legislatures are. In fact, they're exactly designed to be independent, so that they aren't simply reactive to the majority views. So when you've got a court striking down moral legislation, then you've got government setting the tone, and people follow that. So you're half right, government does react. But it also defines right and wrong through the courts, and serves as a highly influential and persuasive force in shaping people's moral beliefs.

1. You say, "This implies that the government must have access to an arbiter of wrong and right. I submit to you that the only such arbiter that exists is God." Um, I don't agree at all. Tons of people - basically most of existence - has a concept of right and wrong. Even those who don't believe in God. The fact that everyone has a sense of right and wrong means that everyone is an independent arbiter of right and wrong. Now, that introduces a set of problems, which Patric also raised with his question (i.e. whose morals do we use?). See that discussion for my answers. The fact remains though, that everyone is an arbiter of right and wrong. I would also contend that God's divine law is etched into human nature, so that in fact our own abilities to determine right and wrong reflect the Divine ability to do so. But that's not essential to this point - what is essential is that we all can make moral judgements.

3. Interesting... you're saying our government was constructed to prevent a tyranny of the majority. While it is certainly true that there are safegaurds against "tyranny by the majority", our government was certainly not established for the purpose of avoiding majority rule. Quite the opposite. We're founded on the idea that the majority can impose their will on others through the state. There are limits to this power - i.e. they cannot take away dissenters' ability to peaceably assemble - but the basic idea is majority rule. This means the majority can force others to live by their morals (and do. See: prostitution, polygamy, cock fighting, etc.).

I also think your abortion example is perfect to illustrate 2 of my points. First, when abortion was made legal by the Court, most people disagreed that it was morally acceptable. So the Court's ruling has in fact had a large influence in shaping the moral views of society. Secondly, I advocate change through reason - when I disagree with the majority on a moral view, I do my darndest to use reason to convince people to see my side. See my posts on abortion as a prime example. If legalizing abortion had been done through legislative means, with the majority imposing their moral view on society, I would have had no problem with it. I would have been saddend, and done my best to create legislative efforts to the contrary. And I would have used reason as my chief tool, trying to argue my side to convince others. But I certainly wouldn't cry foul over moral legislation being enacted.

2. Ok, I'm not quite sure where you're going with this. Yes, there are some fundamental moral views in this society. laid out in the Constitution. But our social contract does allow us to introduce moral views into society, so long as they don't contravene the principles laid out in our founding documents. Just look at all the examples of moral legislation. In fact, as I've shown, the government can't help but create moral legislation.

You also used a very telling phrase in your argument here. You said "religiously derived morals". I want to make sure you're not confusing morals and religion. Because morals are an entirely seperate field. If we're talking morals we're discussing the behaviors which people should aspire to. Morals are ideal ethical norms. Religion is an attempt to know God. Those are two totally different things. Religion can inform morals, and many religious groups have taken it upon themselves to define their ideal ethical norms. But that doesn't mean the two are the same. People who are non-religious, agnostic, or even aetheistic can still have morals and be moral people. And people can do moral reasoning without reference to God. So I just want to be sure that you're not conflating the two.

Anyways, this got long. Hope it serves as a reasonable response.

Matthew B. Novak said...

I'm also intrigued by the very few direct responses to my two major premises. Ben went after the idea that it is the government's role to promote a good citizenry by saying it just wouldn't be effective. I think I responded well enough to that. Maybe not. What do people think? (going for objectively here folks, so why or why not my response was sufficient).

But even more critically, no one has addressed the idea that the government can't take a neutral position. I mean, maybe somebody has, and I just haven't seen how their point addressed that. But I haven't seen it yet... I only say this because I'm wondering what people have thought about that? Is it something that troubles you? Or is it an idea you see flaws in?

I'm realy trying to do an honest debate, and so I'd love it for my position to get attacked, so that I can see if it is in fact defendable, or if there's maybe a different view I should be taking which is superior. Right now I think moral legislation is perfectly ok, but I can be convinced otherwise. All it takes is for someone to show me the flaws in my original arugments. (It usually takes showing me the flaws in what I put forward, not presenting outside objections... I usually feel those can be dealt with, and regardless, aren't superior to the syllogisms that I usually use). That's really how I operate in these types of discussions, so if people have feedback, that'd be awesome.

Aaron said...

For someone with so much to say on this matter, you sure sit there quietly in ConLaw.

Matthew B. Novak said...

That's a low blow. This topic wasn't opened up for discussion in Con Law, and I have been discussing it in my other classes.

Jeff said...

"We'll never survive!"
"Nonsense! You only say that because no one ever has."

You write this in your original post: "Every governmental choice to make something legal or illegal is a moral choice. When the government says 'we're not going to say cock fighting is illegal' they're basically taking a stand against those who say cruelty to animals is immoral."

A law is an endorsement of a certain morality; this I accept. But I don't understand how simply not having a law against cockfighting is taking any sort of stand against anything. Those who believe that cockfighting is cruelty to animals have several other means of limiting the practice - the best being by reasoning, as you pointed out in your response to me.

Now if the government were to subsidize cockfighting, that's a different ball game. But by not having a law one way or the other, the government is essentially saying that this moral debate is none of its business, and we'll let society debate among itself whether or not this practice is acceptable.

Furthermore, there are many immoral things that are not illegal. Most of us believe that following the Ten Commandments is a moral imperative - but only three of those are laws, and only four would be at all enforceable. The fact that we don't have a law prohibiting idolatry is not a moral statement in favor of idolatry.

(Here I feel I must respond to your idea about contraceptives. The court's striking down of the law did not amount to an endorsement of the morality of contraceptives. It was merely a statement that government has no business arbiting our sexual morality. Contraceptive usage went up because of the sexual revolution, not because of the courts.

Furthermore, I find it somewhat laughable that a court made up of people who are members of, live in, and are surrounded by our society are supposed to be immune to the trends that exist therein.)

So if we accept that government can be neutral, the question then becomes this: what moral debates should government weigh in on? Sometimes the majority should decide, but other times that becomes dangerous. The fact that 80% of the country is Christian doesn't mean that the other 20% should be legally forced to take communion. And the fact that 90% of drivers exceed the speed limit doesn't mean government should back down from its moral stand against speeding.

I generally argue that government exists to protect basic freedoms - life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc. I also tend to throw Roosevelt's "four freedoms" in there - speech, religion, from want, from fear. And the First Amendment's press and assembly are nice too. These are moral dictates, no doubt. But we wander outside of these at our own risk. If we are to legislate morality for a purpose other than protecting these freedoms, society had better be about to fall apart if we don't do it.

Reality, though, is a different beast, as you point out - in reality, the majority does force people to live by its morals by laws. But I've never been one to accept a practice as good simply because it's the way it's always been done, or to say that a practice can't be limited simply because it never has.

To sum: you say: "government can't help but to legislate morality." I say: "Nonsense. You only say that because it always has."

Matthew B. Novak said...

Ok! Great response, thanks Jeff. This one is really challenging me here, but I think it can be responded to.

First off, you basically say "the fact that government hasn't taken a neutral stand doesn't mean it can't." I guess that is logically true. But while you certainly can't eliminate the possibility of a neutral stance from the lack of it's existence, you can draw some strong inferences. But sure, I'll bite. I won't use history as an indicator of government's capabilities.

Secondly, you say "by not having a law one way or the other, the government is essentially saying that this moral debate is none of its business, and we'll let society debate among itself whether or not this practice is acceptable." The problem with this is that government is the place where society debates among itself whether or not this practice is acceptable.

I think the crux of your argument comes in this line: I don't understand how simply not having a law against cockfighting is taking any sort of stand against anything. You are right to draw a distintion between "endorsement" and "lack of prohibition". When government has a lack of prohibiton, but isn't endorsing, then it sure looks neutral. And that's a big problem that I have to deal with in my argument. But here's how I see it, and where your distinction falls apart:

Most actions have a moral character. They are either good actions or bad actions. For example, physician assisted suicide (PAS). Either it is morally permissible or morally impermissible. (I think we'd agree that there is no time when this action is morally neutral - maybe I'm wrong about that?)

Anyways, if the government decides to prohibit PAS, clearly they're saying it's morally impermissible. ANd if the government subsidizes or requires PAS, clearly they're saying it's morally permissible.

But what if they decide to be "neutral" and leave the decision to individuals? Even in that situation it seems they are taking a moral stand. By refusing to prohibit PAS they are permiting it. Therefore, in not prohibiting the action the government is saying that it is morally permissible. Certainly you're right to say that allowing the behavior is not an endorsement of the behavior. But allowing the behavior is a rebuke of the position that it should be prohibited. A "neutral" stand is a position against those who consider the behavior immoral.

One last thing needs to be said - and I think this deals with some of Ben's concerns too. You point out that there are a variety of ways for those opposed to an activity to get rid of that activity, reason being a primary force. I completely agree.

I do not believe that everything viewed to be immoral should also be illegal.

For example, when making that immoral thing illegal would cause more harm than good. Ben's Orwellian fears about privacy invasions are a great example. So is your references to the morals laid out as fundamental in our Constitution. When those would be abriged by other moral legislation, the other moral legislation needs to take a back seat (your idolatry example probably fits perfectly here. A prohibition on idolatry would abridge both religious freedom and free speech).

Way back in my original post I wrote "If something is deemed to be immoral, then the government should enact laws and regulations to criminalize, penalize, dis-incentive, or otherwise limit that behavior." I guess I thought the use of "or" was clear. I don't mean for all immoral things to be punishable offenses. I think there are frequently better ways to "otherwise limit that behavior".

But I do think government has an obligation to make their citizenry a good citizenry, and that includes morally. And I maintain that the government cannot take a neutral stance on activities that have an inherently moral character. When the options are "permissible" or "not-permissible", a lack of prohibition is just as good as saying the activity is "permissible".

Ben said...

You know, the title of this post makes me want to go make some S'mores. Darn you!

First off, as a historical matter, I think governments HAVE taken neutral stands. But then, that just depends on how you define "neutral stand."

Matt, I don't think you've refuted Jeff's point about lack of prohibition equalling neutrality. While I don't think it's ALWAYS neutrality, I think it can be.

You say that "lack of prohibition" is the government saying, "this action is at least morally permissible, if not morally endorsed." But legislation doen't exist in a vacuum. Let's take Prohibition as an example.

Prohibitionists recognized the bad effect of alcohol on our society and wanted to ban it. The result? I can sum it up with a name: Al Capone. Organized crime - with all its violence, corruption, and destructive effects on society - found its biggest cash cow. And, face it, anybody who wanted a drink could get it. Same goes for the War on Drugs now.

My point? When the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition, that was NOT (as you say) because America or the government decided alcohol was more morally good. It was because they decided that the evils of banning alcohol did not balance out its good.

So "lack of prohibition" might be government saying "this is morally permissible." Or it might be saying "this is morally wrong, but in trying to stop it, we create greater moral wrongs. We'll let people decide for themselves, individually."

Sure, government can address a moral hazard in other ways (i.e. age limits for alcohol purchase), but sometimes that may have offsetting costs, too. It's hard to interpret lack of action. That's why we lawyers generally don't look to legislative intent to interpret a LACK of congressional action.

One last point - You say "government is the place where society debates" whether something is morally acceptable. Sometimes. Not always. Somtimes society debates around the water cooler, in the media, in the movies. For example, I find oral sex to be degrading and immoral. (Yeah, so that came out of left field.) I could engage in a debate with someone about the morality of said practice. That debate could happen all over America. But I don't think government should outlaw oral sex because of all the Orwellian privacy issues.

I'll respond to the Christian theology via e-mail

Matthew B. Novak said...

Hmm. Ok, I don't think I can dispute the "legislation doesn't exist in a vacuum" thing. I guess you're right - it's hard to say when government is making something permissible because they find it permissible or because of other considerations.

But I do think we can tell when courts are specifically invalidating a law because they have moral disagreements with the law. For example, Lawrence v. Texas. I think it's pretty tough to maintain that Courts are acting neutrally in such an instance.

And I certainly have a lot of trouble with Courts substituting their moral judgements for those of the community at large.

I also maintain that it is the proper role for the legislature, when they see fit, to make moral judgments, so long as those judgments don't abridge the fundamental rights set out in the Constitution. I just come back to the purposes of government. It seems to me that this point has not yet been diffused. Governments are charged with the task of making their citizenry good, including morally good. How they go about that is debatable (i.e. is it a good idea to prohibit alcohol to avoid the moral harms? or should we simply put other limits on it, such as drinking age?). But the idea that making a better citizenry is the government's purpose still seems a solid thesis.

It seems to me that people opposed fundamentally to moral legislation either have to go all one way or the other. If you're gonna say no moral legislation, that means no making cock fighting illegal, no making drugs illegal, no making prostitution or beastiality illegal. Unless there's a substantially direct harm to your citizens, you just can't sustain legislation.

Ben, you might be able to sustain some moral legislation, if you're just arguing that more-often-then-not it causes more problems.

Aaron said...

Matt,

I'm glad you were raising your hand in class yesterday. If you are going to take shots at "your peers" on the blog, it's good that you show up and put your money where your mouth is where the peers are actually debating this thing.

A note on the substance of the matter.

Can you cite an example of recent "moral legislation" where you have disagreed with the moral position being legislated? I'm curious, because every time we have the kind of discussion where you believe deference to the majority is appropriate, you seem to be part of the majority.

Which is really the point of Lawrence v. Texas that you misconstrue. The Supreme Court didn't overturn the Texas statute simply because they disagreed with the moral position taken by the state. The Court struck down the law after making two very different observations.

First, the Court found that a law criminalizing sodomy could not possibly be enforced in a fair or consistant manner. Second, and more importantly, the Court found that the law violated a constitionally protected right to privacy. Neither of these findings have anything to do with pronouncing judgment on the moral position taken by the Texas State Legislature.

The assumption Justice Scalia makes in his scathing dissent--and the assumption that you make here--is that the moral stance taken by the majority ought to be enforced by the Court every single time. But this deference, cart blanche, is not why we have an independent judiciary. The majority gets the executive, the majority gets the Senate, the majority gets the House of Representatives. The Court is the only forum available to the minority. If one person is right, and the rest of the world is wrong, the judiciary is the only place that individual can go to assert his argument. As I type, I keep thinking of you sitting in ConLaw with your hand in the air, trying to make a point with which most that classroom will disagree. Are you wrong, simply because most of the law students in that room disagree with you?

To this end, the Constitution protects certain liberties from the will of the majority and the intrusion of government. You may not believe that privacy is among those rights--but that is an argument about interpreting the text, not about deference to the will of the majority. You may believe that the Court is wrong to have developed a right to privacy in the first place--and that is argument about jurisprudence, not about governments legislating morals. What you cannot assert is that Lawrence rejects moral legislation simply because the judges have different morals. Your position is far harder to argue than "neutral" or "not."

Matthew B. Novak said...

Oh sure, there's lots of moral legislation I have trouble with. Oregon's permissive attitude towards PAS, and laws requiring pharmacists to dispense the morning after pill are. I have moral objections to both. And for enforcement reasons, I think sodomy prohibitions are silly and unworkable (it may be the only time where I looked at Justice Thomas' opinion and didn't disagree).

But I want to deal with your main point, the idea that the Court is there to protect certain minimum rights (which imply certain moral views) for minorities who have those rights threatened by a majority trying to impose their views. Yeah, that's true. You're not going to find any objection to that idea here. In fact, as I've said the previous comment, "I also maintain that it is the proper role for the legislature, when they see fit, to make moral judgments, so long as those judgments don't abridge the fundamental rights set out in the Constitution."

So Courts are to protect certain rights against moral (and all other) legislation which undercuts those rights. Or at least, under a due process/equal protect framework, which undercuts those rights without a legitimate state interest. And it's here where your argument falls apart.

In Lawerence the majority points to privacy rights and says "those are protected, the government needs to have a legitimate interest to step in and regulate them". So Texas tells us its legitimate state interst: Morals. Now the Court could go two ways here. They could say that the important interest presented by the State must be weighed against the right, ala Roe v. Wade. And had they done that, I might even have agreed with their opinion. Even if they said it was not strong enough to allow the prohibition. But instead they went the other way.

Instead of balancing between a legitimate state interest and a fundamental right, the Court says "Texas presents no legitimate state interest". They actually quote Justice Stevens' earlier dissent and say "the fact that a governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral in not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice."

Aaron, I'm not saying they reject moral legislation "simply because the Justices had different morals". I'm saying they reject moral legislation because that's what they're saying.

In addition, I think we both know that the Justices who constituted the majority in this case just "coincidentally" happened to side with their personal moral views. We all know what really happened in this case, and that was a Court imposing it's moral view on a state, under the guise of "protecting a fundamental right". I mean, like I said before, if they'd actually done the analysis and balanced against the legitimate state purpose, I wouldn't have nearly the trouble I do with this ruling. Instead, they decided to condemn the moral views of a Texas majority, and in the process reject moral legislation itself.

Jeff said...

Actually, as a note, I think that Scalia was the only justice on the Court who thought the law in question in Lawrence was a good idea. I seem to remember Thomas saying something about the law being dumb, but that the issue should be settled legislatively. I could be wrong, though.

MBN says:
"It seems to me that people opposed fundamentally to moral legislation either have to go all one way or the other. If you're gonna say no moral legislation, that means no making cock fighting illegal, no making drugs illegal, no making prostitution or beastiality illegal. Unless there's a substantially direct harm to your citizens, you just can't sustain legislation."

You'll get no argument from me on this. According to my ideals, all the things you just mentioned, while I and most of society find them morally repugnant, would be legal. Such is the price one has to pay for consistency, I suppose.

But to address your point about permissibility: there are many things that are morally impermissible that the government has chosen to stay out of. Take adultery. In our society, this is pretty much universally condemned, and yet there are no laws against it. Certainly the people who make up government does not view such acts as morally permissible (save Bill Clinton). However, the government has made the statement that this is an issue best left up to the couple and God.

You bring up the issue of physician-assisted suicide, and that's a telling one. People outside of OR are used to doctors being forbidden from practicing PAS. Thus, when the court upheld OR's right not to have a law against it, people viewed it as the Supreme Court taking a moral stand, even though they were merely stating that OR had the right to repeal whatever bans it wanted to repeal.

More often than not, the idea that the government is making a statement by repealing a law or striking down a law (in the case of the courts) is one of perception. People get used to moral legislation. Oftentimes it acts as "training wheels," reinforcing a moral viewpoint that most people already hold. When the law is removed, people often see this act as being in opposition to their morals and as "taking a moral stand" that the action is permissible. In reality, all that happened was that the training wheels were removed, and people were determining their own morality without government assistance.

On to the main point, then: should government be responsible for people's morals? I tread very carefully on this for three reasons. The first two Ben has already covered. The first is that moral legislation often leads to more harm than good. Drugs and prostitution (where the business is controlled by abusive, exploitative "pimps" and street gangs, and results quite often in unacceptable violence against the women involved) are examples of this. I add, also, the existence of the "Bernard Effect" - that is, the appeal many people see in forbidden things. Think "drinking age." (I coined that term after St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who went around decrying the evil of playing cards... and thus popularized playing cards.)

The second is the uneven, often selective enforcement of such laws. Here in Wake County, NC, I was able to break the law against cohabitation for two years with absolute impunity. I'm fairly certain the government knew about it. We were on the utility bill together, for heaven's sake. By contrast, in rural Pender County, a woman was fined heavily for living with her boyfriend. Conveniently, the fined woman was running for public office. Even in the Lawrence case, the charge for homosexual activity was a substitute for drug charges, which failed to materialize during the raid.

Which brings us to reason #3: the fact that moral legislation is often used to marginalize a group of people or to relegate them to second-class citizenship. This is not the case with many moral laws, but the laws struck down in Lawrence certainly fall into this category. Any time government makes a decision on moral grounds, it is marginalizing those who have a different view of morality. Creating such caste distinctions is not what government should be doing.

Anonymous said...

I've read the majority opinion and Scalia's dissent in Lawrence v. Texas. I see that Matt's post is basically his agreement with Scalia.

But I find that I disagree with Scalia here, in the extremism of saying all moral legislation is rejected. While quoting Stevens, it seems like the word "sufficient" is glossed over. The majority opinion seems to be saying that the practices in private that do not involve minors, injury, coercement, or are even possibly non-consenual do not provide sufficient reason for moral legislation. Seems like plenty of room is left.

I would agree this is a moral statement by the court. The statement is that the morality of respecting privacy in this case trumps the morality of discouraging a private act.

Sorry this is so short. I'm not aiming to be a lawyer.

Mike said...

Wow, looks like I'm joining this discussion ridiculously late. (By the way, hi Matt, you don't know me, but I'm Mike, a friend of Jeff, Ben, and Zhubin. And incidentally, the latter's opinions on baseball are simply wrong.)

Anyway, I've barely skimmed these comments, and I want to look into them more deeply before I form a response to your overall argument. But first I wanted to take a moment and point out an inherent flaw in your approach: your use of killing as a moral comparitor sodomy.

Killing is wrong. I'd be surprised if anyone tried to argue that point. If they do, I'd be curious to how they fit in ordinary society.

But what of sodomy? If we assume the sodomy is not consensual, then it would be rape -- bam, end of discussion. But what is your argument against a consensual act that occurs between two adults? This is something I have never understood. You say you can give moral reasons for why certain things are wrong. What is the reasoning here? You even admit that "Because God says so" cannot be considered a moral reason. So the Bible is out. I'm curious as to what your argument is.

Then, of course, there's the other point, that killing is depriving somebody of life. Sodomy commits no such heinous crime. These two issues aren't apples and oranges; they are apples and Jupiter.

(If this has already been addressed, I apologize. As I said, I merely skimmed the comments.)

The larger discussion of how general government legislation relates to morality is an interesting one. Hopefully I will have a response pertaining to that soon.

Jacob Grier said...

I'm also here at Ben's invitation, joining the conversation a bit late. I'm not, in this comment anyway, going to get into the question of whether or not promoting morality is a proper role for the government. Suffice it to say that I find Mill compelling and busybodies repulsive.

I will take issue with your argument that all legislation is inherently moral legislation. You offer prohibitions on murder as an example. Of course, almost anyone will agree that murder is immoral. But we need not prohibit it because of its immorality; we can prohibit it because it violates a person's right to security.

Contractualist or natural rights theories, which also have a long and distinguished pedigree, argue that it is to protect rights and prevent coercion that "governments are instituted among men." Most coercive acts would indeed be immoral, but it's not their immorality that counts for the law. It's their coerciveness that matters.

It all comes down to what government is aiming at. You suggest it should aim at promoting morality, leaving it virtually boundless. A classical liberal would suggest that it should aim at preventing coercion, constraining its domain.

Coercive activities are just a small subset of all the activities that are immoral. If for that reason you think that all prohibitions on coercion are "legislating morality," then you're correct but trivially so. The distinction between coercive and uncoercive acts is still a coherent one capable of guiding proper government activity.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Ok, lots has been said here, I'm gonna throw out a few randomish responses and hopefully those'll suffice. I'm amazed at the fact that nobody seems to agree with me that moral legislation is an appropriate aim of government. I guess it just seems to me that we want our government promoting a good citizenry, and that includes all sorts of ways: economically, intellectually, physically, morally, etc. And that being the case, I'm relatively comfortable saying they can regulate morality so long as they are not abridging fundamental rights laid out in the Constitution. And I'd prefer it that the government didn't do more harm then good, as Ben suggests is an ever-present problem. I'm not as pessimistic as Ben that it will usually cause more problems, but the more I think about his point, the more relevant it seems as a qualifier to what I'm saying.

But a couple things:

To Jeff's: Interesting analogy with the training wheels. I don't know that it's inaccurate, but I guess I have little faith in people's ability to ride the "moral bike" without the training wheels, hence their appeal for me. With the whole PAS thing - I was using that as an example of how I'm fine with Oregon voters creating a law allowing PAS. They weren't just repealing a ban - they were actively putting into place procedures which governed when they thought PAS was morally permissible. And I'm ok with that. I would disagree with those voters, but that's their perrogative, and I think acceptable moral legislation. I'm curious whether or not you would say the Oregon "Death with Dignity" act is moral legislation - because it does a lot more than repeal a ban, and in some ways maintains that ban for certain groups (i.e. non-terminal patients, the mentally handicapped, etc.). Also, like with Ben's point, I think your other two are important caveats on moral legislation - it must be enforced evenly, and not used for the purpose of discrimination. We're all aware that all laws marginalize the groups that disagree with those laws - whether or not they're moral legislation - so we just have to be sure the laws are not created with animus. But in my mind a few cautionary caveats don't equate to no moral legislation, only to a more carefully considered and executed
form of moral legislation, designed to avoid the pit-falls you lay out. Oh, and I appreciate your consistency. So few people embrace the full implications of their position. Thanks.

To Anonymous: You say "The statement is that the morality of respecting privacy in this case trumps the morality of discouraging a private act." I don't think this is the case here - because the Court never does any weighing between the two moral values (I conceed, private autonomy is a moral value). And while the Court inserts the word "sufficient", I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that preserves morality as a legitimate state interest. You suggest that if there are minors, or coercion, etc., involved, then moral legislaiton is ok. But in those circumstances, you don't need "morality" as a reason for legislation, because you can point to protecting minors, or stopping coercion. The test of whether morality is a sufficient government purpose is when it stands alone as a reason. In Lawerence it stood alone, and the Court dismissed it as not a reason at all. I think that can be especially seen in the complete lack of balancing in the opinion. If morals were even a small legitimate reason, then the Court would get to the question of whether, weighed against the right of privacy, that reason was of substantial importance and whether the law was drawn in appropriate ways and such, just like they did in Roe v. Wade. But they didn't do that, a huge indicator that they in fact meant to throw moral legislation - or at least this moral legislation - out the window all together.

Mike - First off, what baseball team do you root for? Second, you write: "You say you can give moral reasons for why certain things are wrong... So the Bible is out. I'm curious as to what your argument is."

I'd say that morality is derrived from a couple of places. First, people largely intuit morality, so there's just sort of a general sense of it. I don't think that's good enough, so I'm a big fan of pointing to "Natural Law". I'm sure you're somewhat familiar with the idea, but basically, I'd argue that certain things, like drinking too much, eating too little, or engaging in homosexual activity, are contrary to human nature, and therefore morally wrong. People could also derrive moral views from other general moral philosophies, provided in things like Utilitarianism, Kantiasm, Buddhism, etc. I'm not sure what any of those would have to say about consensual sodomy, but personally, I go the natural law way. Also, please feel free to go back and really throw yourself in. And on other posts in the future too - there might be some good ones coming up soon... I hope.

Jacob - I totally agree with your distinction between coercive and non-coercive acts. But I think governments should be concerned with much more than coercive acts - I think they should be concerned with creating a good citizenry, and that includes a nubmer of things. Like preventing coercion, making them economically better off, educating them, and helping them be morally good people. A perfect example would be to have good samaritan laws, requiring certain good actions from the people. I think cock fighting constitutes cruelty to animals, and is immoral, and therefore should be outlawed. It's hardly a coercive activity, but still strikes me as something worthy of being prohibitted. It seems to me if you're gonna say "only coercive activities", then you've gotta say cock fighting is permissible. You're right to point out the sensible division between coercive and non-coercive activities, but I, for one, am not satisfied with that division.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Oh yeah, that whole welcoming thing I did with Mike applies to all of you folks following other people over here. I think it's awesome. I've taken to reading most of your blogs too, so if I haven't commented yet, know at least that it's reciprocated.

Anyways, I appreciate the comments, and everyone should feel free to keep them coming. I'm pretty committed to thinking through my beliefs, and my position has been known to "evolve" from time to time, in light of the great things other people say. I think you can even see some of that in this discussion - I've gone from saying "moral legislation is a-okay" to "well, moral legislation is important, but we've gotta watch out for some of these problems like unequal enforcement and causing more problems".

Anyways, the point is, I really appreciate the insights. Thanks. Keep 'em coming.

Mike said...

I'm a Braves fan, and then I also tend to root for teams from all the places I've lived: the Orioles, the Angels, the Astros. Which now means I should become a Devil Rays fan. But I probably won't.

Ah yes, that Natural Law. If drinking too much falls into that category, I've violated the Natural Law often. Of course, it helps that I don't agree with the so-called Natural Law on many things. Homosexuality would be one such thing. I can't agree that it's in violation of the Natural Law because I believe that it occurs naturally.

But the issue here isn't homosexuality: it's sodomy. Sodomy can occur between opposite sex partners, and frequently does. I'm fairly certain, though too lazy to look it up, that the Texas law in Lawrence specifically targeted gays, which is probably why fewer people took umbrage with it. However, I would be curious as to how people would react to laws that tried to tell them which sexual positions they could use and so forth. Funny how differently we often react to a law when it affects us directly.

(For a discussion of what "sodomy" should really mean, I refer you to one of Jeff's posts from a while back, which may also explain his Tom Tancredo comment.)

So anyway, let's see what I can come up with as far as government legislating morality...

For starters, I tend to believe politicians these days aren't a particularly moral bunch themselves, so I have to admit the idea in this post disturbs me from that angle.

Perhaps my reservations with the argument stem from my personal morality, which is basically governed by the simple philosophy that it is wrong to maliciously do harm to others. Think about it: that simple tenet covers such things as deprivation of life, liberty, and property, as well as cock-fighting. (Those harmed in the latter case would be the cocks, of course.)

As a Christian, you are naturally operating from a larger range of moral values, which may explain your belief that government should "promote a good citizenry". I disagree. The government's job should be to protect people's rights to do basically whatever the hell they want as long as it doesn't infringe on other people's rights to do whatever the hell they want. As my dad used to put it, "I have the freedom to swing my fists wildly, but it stops when I hit your nose."

So from my perspective, the law in Lawrence v. Texas was rightfully overturned. The government was swinging their fists freely and punching homosexuals in the nose, if you will. That, to me, is immoral. Similarly, I am in agreement with Jeff (except for cock-fighting, as mentioned above): I would not argue with having no legislation except that which prevents harm coming to citizens.

I feel like I should say more, but I'll just throw that out there for starters. Oh, and I should probably also mention the likely obvious point that I don't read much in the way of political philosophy, unlike Jeff and Jacob, who are political philosophers extraordinaire. Me, I tend to go from the gut. For better or worse.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Just quick response, since things have really died down on this post, and I'm gonna try for a prior type post in a little while...

Anyways, you said "I can't agree that it's in violation of the Natural Law because I believe that it occurs naturally."

Just because something occurs naturally doesn't mean it's not in violation of the natural law. The idea of natural law is that there is an objective human nature. Whether all people are born with that nature or are born "disordered", with a different nature, doesn't change what the objective human nature is.

And the objective human nature can be known through reason to be ordered at specific objectives or goods. These goods include sustaining life, health, happiness, etc. So part of our human nature would include eating enough that we sustain our lives and maintain health. But of course there are people who are aneorexic (sp?), and don't eat enough. This is objectively disordered. And it happens naturally. To my thinking, homosexuality can be paralleled to eating disorders, or other things which are objectively contrary to human nature.