Friday, March 24, 2006

Down with Morality Part 2 - Morality Laws and what to replace them with

A morality law is a law written specifically to prevent a behaviour that members of the community feel uncomfortable with, or believe to be against God's will, or against public standards of decency, or against whatever uptight feelings they have on a specific day.

Interestingly enough, some morality laws are kept on the books long after their original purpose has vanished. For example, in Toronto, you need a permit showing you live in the area to park your automobile on the street over night. This was originally a morality law that kept unmarried individuals from staying overnight at the homes of other unmarried individuals. Since that time, it has become a huge cash cow for the city, and the only way to keep neighbourhoods from clogging up with unwanted parking congestion.

But I digress.

I have said before (see previous post) that I stopped believing in morality, and instead believe people should focus on behaving ethically. The same, I believe, applies to the law. So how does one change from morality laws to ethical laws?

In my mind, the ethical approach is to have laws deal with harm. In looking at an action, rather than saying whether or not the action is moral, determine whether or not the action causes harm, which Merriam-Webster's dictionary of law defines as: loss of or damage to a person's right, property, or physical or mental well-being.

Now (and let us brace ourselves for the reactions of the narrow-minded), most morality laws are about sex; who should be allowed to have sex, when they should be allowed to have sex, how they should be allowed to have sex, and whether or not they should be allowed to create images of themselves or others having sex, and whether or not anyone should be allowed to look at those images.

Many of the laws currently in place are arbitrary, poorly thought out, and designed to keep specific groups--usually young people or gay people--from engaging in sexual behaviour. This is done not because of evidence indicating that these groups having sex causes harm, but rather because the people making the laws are afraid or disgusted or otherwise misguided as to how these laws should be written.

If these laws are changed to no longer reflect what people think is "moral," and are instead based on whether or not an action causes harm, things become much simpler. Here's the basics:

If two (or more) individuals, capable of informed consent (that is, understanding what they are agreeing to) engage in consensual sexual activities of any type, then there is no harm involved, and those activities should be legal.

If a person (or persons) who is capable of informed consent forces another person who is capable of informed consent into non-consensual sexual activity, or engages in sexual activity with a person who is not capable of informed consent (unable to understand what they are agreeing to), or uses a position of trust, authority or dependency to influence another person to engage in sexual activity, or sexually exploits another individual for profit, those activities cause harm, and should be illegal.

Interestingly enough, in Canada, the laws about sex (that is, heterosexual sex) are written specifically to deal with the possibility of harm. For the most part they seem reasonable. However, section 159 blocks young homosexuals from enjoying the same rights as are extended to heterosexual couples. This section has been declared unconstitutional in the appeals court of Ontario and Quebec, and one would hope will eventually be struck down across Canada.

In the USA, on the other hand, laws vary from state to state. In other countries, other laws prevail. In some places, sex outside of marriage is a death penalty offence. In many more, homosexuality is the same. Many people have been imprisoned or put to death, not based on proof that their behaviours are wrong, but because someone else believes them to be. "Morality" is used as a tool for repression and control.

So, down with morality. Let us embrace ethics. Who knows, we might all just be better for it.

Back to work.

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