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Civil Law Isn’t Always About Right and Wrong

At one level, Rabbi Stern’s argument employs some seriously dubious logic – if the essence of life is being able to freely make the right choice without any outside restraints, then we should legalize murder and simply encourage people to do the right thing and abstain. Now clearly this line is a reductio ad absurdum and Rabbi Stern would never advocate doing away with all laws to give human beings the untrammeled ability to choose as they will.
No, laws–in our country at least–are always about right and wrong: they’re about good public policy, which is why religious leaders are sometimes the least well-equipped people to speak out about them. For example: gay marriage is forbidden within many religious traditions but there is no sound public policy reason why it shouldn’t be supported and many reasons why it should. Rather than legislating morality, governments should make gay civil marriage legal and leave it up to individual denominations whether they wish to sanctify these same marriages in a religious setting.


I’m not saying that law should be divorced from morality (and it is clear that religious leaders were at the vanguard of many important efforts to oppose immoral laws, such as slavery or Jim Crow segregation, in opposition to an equal number of religious leaders who supported the existing laws). But the key question is: whose morality? In a multicultural country such as the United States with separation of church and state, there are many different competing visions of morality, which is why the government should not get into the business of legislating any single view, as in the gay marriage example above or as with abortion. Individuals should make their own decisions and should, most definitely, bring in their personal morality, but without trying to foist that morality on the country as a whole.



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chaim baruch-chaim

posted January 30, 2008 at 1:33 pm


I believe Rabbi Waxman intended to say:
“No, laws–in our country at least–are [NOT] always about right and wrong: they’re about good public policy…”
I concur. But his bringing in of competing moralities in the contemporary multicultural setting is somewhat off base.
If there were no cultural or religious minorities in a given country, it would, by my lights, still be wrong for the government, in an instance where public safety or the larger “good public policy” was not threatened, to enforce moral policy on the minority of one (or two) who had a different notion that everyone else about whether abortion or gay marriage was per se wrong.
And I think that is in line with one part of Rabbi Stern’s position. Not that nothing should ever be against the law, in an effort to perserve moral autonomy; but that those things that are against the law should not be so merely because they offend the “moral sense” (or sense of superiority)of those with the power to legislate and enforce.



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Dave

posted January 30, 2008 at 2:45 pm


There are sound public policy reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. Right now the US is at the exact (2.1) replacement level of children. The more gay-friendly nations of Europe and Canada are below this level and will have serious trouble replacing their populations, and even staying around. What effect would legalizing same-sex marriages have on birthrates? The answer is clear.
The effect of allowing for more abortions would be the same.



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Rabbi Gene Roper

posted January 30, 2008 at 4:10 pm


It is not for the Government or any civil body to determin morality. We are talking Talmud, which comes from Torah. It is for the very word of G-d to determine morality.



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Scott R.

posted January 30, 2008 at 5:59 pm


There are sound public policy reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. Right now the US is at the exact (2.1) replacement level of children. The more gay-friendly nations of Europe and Canada are below this level and will have serious trouble replacing their populations, and even staying around. What effect would legalizing same-sex marriages have on birthrates? The answer is clear.
No, the answer is not clear. You can’t make people have children. You can’t make non-Jews follow Torah, and you can’t make the vast majority of Jews follow your way of Torah.
The U.S. is not a fascist dictatorship (well, it won’t be if we survive the putz in the White House). Let’s not make it one.



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frgough

posted January 31, 2008 at 10:37 am


This article is precisely why the Founding Fathers wanted a weak central government and broad constitution. That way laws regarding moral issues would be instituted on the local level to reflect community values.
This has become an issue because we have abandoned federalism for nationalism and so now various communities are in a battle over how the national government should address their local needs.



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frgough

posted January 31, 2008 at 10:39 am


“The U.S. is not a fascist dictatorship (well, it won’t be if we survive the putz in the White House). Let’s not make it one.”
Asinine comments like the above simply show the ignorance of the poster. In a fascist country, we wouldn’t be having elections.



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Dave

posted January 31, 2008 at 12:55 pm


You can’t make people have children but you can make aborting fetus’ harder.
You can also encourage people to have children (see Kiryas Yoel-median age-15)



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Larry Lennhoff

posted January 31, 2008 at 1:06 pm


No, laws–in our country at least–are always about right and wrong: they’re about good public policy, which is why religious leaders are sometimes the least well-equipped people to speak out about them.

The comma after the word ‘No’ completely inverts the meaning of the sentence from what the rest of the article seems to say. Did you actually mean to say “No laws – in our country at least – are about right and wrong: they’re about good public policy, which is why religious leaders are sometimes the least well-equipped people to speak out about them.”?



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Lucy

posted January 31, 2008 at 3:31 pm


Is it “moral” to ban abortion? Is it always immoral to have one? Having an abortion is never good, but unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary. Do you really think an exploited child of thirteen should be made to go through a pregnancy and childbirth? How about a rape victim? Whould you force her to carry the rapist’s child to term? Should a woman continue a pregnacy that threatens her own life? There are many situations in which abortion seems the only humane solution. Remember, banning abortions will not prevent them from happening. Women with money and connections will still be able to obtain medically safe abortions and poor, desperate women will die trying to end unwanted pregnancies.
If we want to see fewer unwanted pregnancies and abortions, we need to educate young men and women both. They need to respect each other and themselves so that meaningless “hookups” are seen for what they are, demeaning and harmful. They also need proper information so that when they do choose to be sexually active (within a meaningful relationship) they can prevent pregnancy until they are ready for children.
Girls and women who are raped or otherwise exploited need to be made to feel safe, so they can come forward. Emergency contraception should be made available when necessary.
As for gay marraige, if two people want to commit to each other, that is a good thing. Stable relationships mean a stable society. Obvioulsy, rabbis, priests and ministers who object to such unions on moral and religious grounds need not officiate at such weddings.



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michelle

posted January 31, 2008 at 5:34 pm


lucy, thank you for putting my very thoughts on this subject into such meaningful words.



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Scott R.

posted January 31, 2008 at 6:14 pm


Hey Frgough, Hitler was elected. Duh. They had elections until 1943 in Mussolini’s Italy as well.



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Scott R.

posted January 31, 2008 at 6:16 pm


You can’t make people have children but you can make aborting fetus’ harder.
And is it our place to impose Jewish laws and morality on gentiles?
You can also encourage people to have children (see Kiryas Yoel-median age-15)
And is it our place to impose Jewish laws and morality on gentiles?
Because if that is what they think we are doing, you know what they will do to us.



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jon01

posted February 1, 2008 at 1:26 am


Shalom
I don’t see that line as being reductio ad absurdum but a realistic and logical extention of the slipery slope. Not all cultures perceive murder as being wrong, why should we expect it from future or even current American culture? Isn’t this why the Rabbis teach Esau rejected the offer to receive Torah?
B’rachos
Jon



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Dan King

posted February 1, 2008 at 11:59 am


Peace,
When man in his infinite power finds away to reverse GOD’s Law of physics with regards to polarity then we will have a model for consideration.
PEACE, LOVE AND LIGHT
dan



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Dave

posted February 4, 2008 at 11:43 pm


The article stated that there was no public policy reason ban same-sex marriages.
I pointed out that from a public policy perspective promoting policies that are anti-natalist (abortion and same-sex marriage), damages a country’s future.
Nothing about ‘imposing’ any religion on anyone.



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