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Ron Paul: When the morality changes, it will reflect on the laws

by Sam Killermann · 23 comments

in Op-Ed

I was watching one of the recent GOP debates and I heard Ron Paul say something that really struck me, responding with his thoughts on abortion.  I transcribed the quote, but the video is down below that if you’d like to watch.

…in the 1960s, when the culture was changing, the vietnam war was going on, the drugs were there, the pornography came in, then abortion became prevalent even though it was illegal.  So the morality of the country changed, but then the law followed up.  When the morality changed, it will reflect on the laws.  The law is very important(…), but the law will not correct the basic problem: that’s the morality of the people.

It struck me that Paul said we need to change the morality of the people in the US, and make it morally unacceptable for abortions to take place, in order for anti-abortion legislation to take hold.  And then there was a great applause.

Now Paul is certainly not the first person to say that the laws reflect the morality of the masses.  One of my criminal justice professors told me the same thing, and though she didn’t remind me of the grandfather I always wished I had, I believed it just as much coming from her mouth as Paul’s.  But hearing it the other day made me think about the morality-based battle I find myself fighting every day.

I sometimes have a hard time understanding how people can separate LGBT rights and human rights.I sometimes have a hard time understanding how people can separate LGBT rights and human rights.  I’m even more confounded when I consider the fact that a lot of those people, and certainly the most powerful ones, are proud Christians (“love thy neighbor”) and proud Americans (“give me your huddled masses, yearning to be free”).  I often struggle with the idea that the right side of the political spectrum is the one arguing for small government, yet arguing that the gov’t should be deciding who is fit to marry who – something that seems to encroach on liberties far more than a percentage point of income tax.  And most often I feel weighed down by my concern that people care solely about themselves, and when 90% of the population is only looking after that 90%’s needs, it seems like the other 10% isn’t likely to gain a voice.

I think that’s immoral.  I think it’s immoral to discriminate against people due to aspects of them that are in-born, innate, and/or identity-based.  I think it’s immoral that most Americans don’t support legislation to promote what I believe to be human rights.  Many of us who feel as I do have dedicated a lot of our energy fighting for that equal rights legislation, but maybe we’re fighting the wrong battle.  Maybe Paul has a point.   I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but do we need to change the morality of the people, in order to change the law?

Did you know that being attracted to individuals of the same sex was considered a mental illness by the American Psychology Association until 1973?  Did you know that being transgender is still considered a mental illness by the American Psychology Association?

Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.  But don’t be too daunted – a lot of progress has been made.  Just look at what we accomplished in 2011.

Written by Sam Killermann

Sam is a writer and performer who uses those skills as an ally to advance progress in the realms of LGBT equality and social justice. He tours the country speaking to college students about stereotypes, prejudice, and oppression, and writes for this site when he's at home in Austin, TX.

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  • P David

    I think his point is that the laws on the books reflect the “unwritten laws” of the people. All parts of society will try to “change the morals,” (to put it in Paul’s terms) in order to advance their opinion or values . . . not just religious institutions. I think it makes a lot of sense to say that whatever a society values will be expressed in its laws. If the people are the government and the authority and thus, in a way, are the law, then you have to change the “people” to change the law as written.

    So yes, I would say the question comes down to what people value. Take marriage, for example. The “test” here is whether people value the preservation of a historically straight institution, or value the absolute freedom of religions and cultures to decide their institutions apart from the government (i.e. marriage is in part a social contract and the government is, in fact, obligated to be “colorblind” in enforcing those contracts). As it relates to Paul, I think he would say that no matter what people think, the prevailing law has to be enforced and if you disagree with it, you kind of have to deal with it unless there is a prevailing change of thought.

    In some ways I would see marriage being one of the greatest examples of the balance between the values of the people and the written law. Some states have laws permitting homosexual marriages and others bar it completely . . . I think those laws will only be changed when the people value differently. That’s why I stand against federal action on marriage–forcing the people to think one way doesn’t solve the problem. It’s a lot more painful to work on people at the people level, but in the end, the result is more permanent and genuine.

    • Samuel Killermann

      This is a fantastic comment.  If I had commenter awards, I would bestow you with “Best Comment I’ve Seen on this Site.”  

      I particularly like your point about marriage being one the best examples of the balance between values and laws.  Most pieces of legislation aren’t so salient, as people aren’t directly experiencing their effect most days of their life, and almost none are so personal or emotional, as there are few bills meant to legislate “love”.  This may be why such a balance has been struck, because there are a variety of stances on morals and marriage, and this is one area where we do a great job verbalizing our stances to politicians.  

      • P David

        Thanks for the kind words, Sam. =)

        That’s a good point about salience, as marriage effects most people on a daily basis at some point during their lives. And being people, I think we do tend to verbalize things that affect us more than things that don’t. =)

        As for the balance, to kind of elaborate, I’ve always seen the issue of marriage and marriage law as a kind of Venn diagram. You have one circle which is the cultural sphere of marriage. In that sphere you have communities, religious institutions, etc. that shape marriage and give it value and significance to people. In the US, that has predominantly been the protestant Christian church. In other societies such as smaller civilizations in Papua New Guinea, or central Africa, marriage is less religious in nature you could say.

        The second circle is the governmental role which only exists (in theory) if the type of marriage we are talking about requires a contract to be signed. If so, this institution now extends into the public realm and the two circles will have some slight overlap. As the the government is the final arbiter of contracts, it will need to enforce the contractual aspects of such a union.

        In sum, the government needs to be involved only in the direct contractual aspect(s) of marriage (enforcement, shared possessions, money as it relates to taxation, inheritance, healthcare power of attorney, etc.). As for the “definition,” that should be left up to the sociocultural spirit and be allowed to evolve in a non-codified way. If plural definitions exist, then there will always be “unspoken” definitions in the mind of society and the government needs no definition other than party A and party B.

        • Samuel Killermann

          This is a fantastic conversation.  I think the venn diagram is a great way of thinking about the conflict/relationship between church and state regarding marriage.  

          You said that you don’t feel the federal gov’t has a place in creating marriage legislation.  Are you, as an individual, in favor of same-sex marriage?  If so, how would you like to see that legislated?  If not, how would you like to see it… not legislated?

          • P David

            Hhhmm . . . This could be a complicated answer, but I’ll try to make it as succinct as possible.

            I really think it’s hard to answer the question of being “in favor” of same-sex marriage because in my mind, it doesn’t present itself -as- a question. I should preface by saying I was raised Christian and I still consider myself devoutly religious. From a life experience perspective, “Christian marriage” holds a lot of deep meaning and symbolism for me. That said, while same-sex marriage may not hold that significance in my religious circle, I don’t really see any reason why I should discount it.

            So, to be honest, on a very personal level I’m a little conflicted over where it fits into the religious aspect of my life, how we are supposed to interpret our dogma, how much of it should change over time, etc. But from a purely non-religious stance, I’m not really “in favor” of same-sex marriage as much as I am in favor of culture being able to create meaningful institutions, “marriage,” in totality, being one of them. I’m not trying to sidestep the question, though it feels to me that I am, but I’m trying to separate my public conduct from what’s in my head. I mean, there are some things that I don’t understand and I’d rather err on the side of not trampling liberty since, as a Christian, I have to live equal under the law with everyone else in this country. I’m a pretty big fan of keeping dogmatic laws OUT of civic laws. =)

            As far as how I want to see it “not-legislated,” that’s pretty much it. I don’t think there need to be laws at all other than technical laws directly tied to contracts. Leave the “definitions” up to communities, but as soon as parties sign a paper, the government has to be there to enforce. You and I could sign a piece of paper splitting our possessions and bring it to court as force of contract if one of us backs out, so why differentiate on the types of contracts? But if you must legislate, then do it at the lowest level possible because that provides the greatest elasticity. I think this kind of institution is cultural kind of like how “art” is. What is art? We don’t have to redefine art every 10 years . . . we just kind of let it be. What is marriage? In general, it’s the merging of two lives . . . no need for governmental “definitions” there.

          • Samuel Killermann

            Thanks for sharing, this comment and the last.  This has been an evening of mental gymnastics for me, and I really appreciate evening such as these.  

            For the most part, I can wrap my mind around what you are saying.  Though, you were right, it’s a complicated answer.  But a complicated answer is well-suited to a complicated topic. 

            There’s only one area where I’m unclear.  

            When you say that you think we shouldn’t be legislating marriage, and less legislation leads to greater elasticity, do you follow that to the logical conclusion that marriage should be defined by individuals, and the state should be there to support and enforce any contract they sign?  Meaning that if one congregation defines marriage as a union between two people, regardless of gender/sex, the state should support and recognize that union and grant it the privileges/responsibilities of all married couples (in taxes, property, inheritance, etc.).  

            We’re really putting Disqus’s comment threading to the test here!

          • R L


            I’ve been following this thread with some interest.

            I’m actually a good friend of P David’s, but I disagree with his argument that marriage should be left up to the states. I’m not a fan of any sort of federal definition of marriage, either. I think you touch on a great point above when you argue that taking less legislation to its logical conclusion means marriage would be defined by the individual. I think it also ties into the freedoms of religion and expression, in that if a congregation or individual feels marriage is [X], they should be able to practice it as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe upon anyone else’s rights to life, liberty, and property, or otherwise disobey the Constitution. (Ha, can you tell I’m a libertarian?) The government should recognize marriages between any two consenting persons who are of age, both as an act of personal or religious expression and as a contract.

             So if I want to marry anyone of any gender identity, gender expression, sex, or sexual orientation (I love the genderbread person, btw), I should be able to. I just can’t turn around and define for anyone else what marriage would look like for them. Although I deeply sympathize with LGBT folks who are looking to the federal level to recognize their long-term relationships to other people, I think it sets a dangerous precedent to allow government (on any level, but especially the federal level) to define marriage. Only I (and my partner) should be able to define what my marriage looks like.

            All this theorizing aside, we have a long way to go in this country before LGBT people have equality in terms of rights / liberties. I would like to see that day come. I’m just not sure that legislation on the federal level is the right way to go, since, in a sense, we’d be allowing the government to “give” rights to us, instead of fighting for our inherent rights. Some might argue that action on the federal level is just an act of recognition of those inherent rights. I can see their point, but allowing the federal government to define marriage means that then, if the DOMA folks ever got their way, we’d be in even deeper trouble.

            Anyway, just some thoughts. I’ll let you two get back to being thoughtful and articulate.

          • lohtar

            Reading this all with much interest and I respect the well thought and respectful commenting, even where opinions may clash.

            I agree that marriage should be an arrangement of individuals, regardless of gender expression and/or orientation.
            Also, what about people who do not fit into a cisgender role? Legalizing same-sex marriage does not necessarily benefit them either, especially looking abroad (in fact, I am abroad myself. Europe here. Hello.) there are a few countries now that have the ‘legal option’ of being not-gender specified, if they so desire.

            What are their legal options to wed?

            In The Netherlands, known for the country first allowing same-sex marriages, SSM in fact does not exist. There is only marriage, open since 2001 to any 2 individuals that have to meet some criteria (age, not legally connected to another person and such) but gender and gender expression of either person is not one of them. Think that would be the better approach.

            That said, what I have a fundamental issue with are the benefits people get when wed.
            People who choose not to wed, for some reason can not find a/the right partner to wed with or whichever ground there is not to be wed are not granted a large amount of benefits. I personally would limit the privileges to hospital visits, inheritances and such, things that clearly have to do with the bond people have.
            Other than that, I would suggest governments stay out of it and grant no special benefits to marriage, as it seems unfair to people not being wed.

            (Though, some debate this as an argument against SSM, which for me it truly isn’t.)

          • P David

            I think I agree with you, lohtar. Marriages as between individuals–no further description needed.

            As for government involvement with marriage . . . I think it makes sense to allow married couples to file jointly (after all they are merging their belongings, assets, etc). Though I have pretty major issues with the way the tax system is set up period, to be honest.

          • lohtar

            It be nice for Disqus to widen itself a bit again or something silly…

            Do people always merge their belongings? Think that differs from marriage to marriage, not? At least (most) European legislature leaves that choice to the couple. 
            There are certain benefits though that are solely in place for being wed and have no practical reason, such as being able to inherit from your loved one or indeed filing jointly as you own everything jointly.

            Just somehow married people are better people and get therefore benefits that do not directly relate to the status of being in an union, that seems to be the most sane reasoning I can make out of it and I’d say that’s fundamentally wrong.

            Once again, not US here, but I believe legislature is not that much different. Correct me if I am wrong though.

            Marriage should be about love (IMO) and the benefits should somehow represent that love.
            Nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps that is even my strongest argument here. 

          • P David

            Yes, this is starting to get ridiculously narrow . . .

            No, not all couples will want to merge their belongings, but I think it’s fair to allow the couples that do to also pay taxes, interest, etc. as such. What exactly do you mean by benefits when you say married people get benefits?

          • lohtar

            I am just going to start a new comment and we can continuethere…

          • P David

            Yes, I think Disqus will need a break after this. =) And I would like to say, Sam, that appreciate your discerning between subtleties, read: I’m not a homophobe or gay-basher because I have reservations about marriage legislation. So often the discussion devolves into regurgitated talking points (‘Marriage for all or you’re a fundie nutcase,” “Obama is the antichrist,” “gay marriage will lead to people humping dogs in the streets,” etc).

            I think I would have to agree that the logical extension is that if
            marriage (and other cultural ‘institutions’) are a constitutional right,
            then since they are not specifically doled out to the government it
            must be left to the people. I hesitate to say “individual” because the
            Constitution is very wary about saying that rights are delegated to
            individuals, using passive voice most often, but it does say “the
            people.” I think that makes sense, since the “individual” doesn’t define
            marriage–it exists in a cultural context, which necessarily involves more than an individual. But the government should not be a “recognizing” or “defining” body, merely a facilitating body.

            It’s gotten a muddled now, so I’m not sure if we agree or disagree on these different points (both Sam and R L). =)

            Sam, I’m curious what your position might be on some of these more specific (and perhaps semantic) distinctions . . .

      • P David

        And wow . . . I apologize for all the typos!

  • lohtar

    For example health insurance. Here it is often the case that certain fees are way lower once you are wed, which is part insurance company policy but also part government legislature. Now perhaps you can use the argument that people in relationships tend to be healthier (so I read), but think that is not fair enough an argument, also as a relationship does not always equal marriage.
    But a car accident can happen to anyone.

    Also, certain mortgage benefits that are not related to income (single or jointly). Or even the option to buy a house. While again this is part policy of companies, legislature does play an important part here and I find that unfair.

    Equal rights should not only apply to people in a relationship, or even only people in a 2person relationship (though that might be the next stretch, and one too far, for many a person). It should apply to people, and I would say individuals.

    Rights resulting out of marriage should clearly represent the union of those individuals, rights meaningless without such an union. IMO.

    • Samuel Killermann

      Holy cow!  I stopped getting notifications, but when I popped back here to see if anything new cropped up I spit water on my monitor laughing.  Silly, Disqus.  Great move, Lohtar.

      Oh, and before I get back into this, I want to echo RL and Lohtar and tell you all how much I appreciate this.  It’s refreshing to have such a conversation without tempers flaring.

      To use a broad brush, I agree with pretty much everything I’ve read above.  I fight for the right to “same-sex marriage” (with that language) because that’s what’s being debated.  That’s the “hot button.”  Open marriage, as you defined it Lohtar, would make me (and I’m sure most of the lgbt community) incredibly happy.  

      I’m not in favor, however, of “state recognized civil unions” being used to distinguish something separate from “marriage.”  As much as the laws and manifest privileges of marriage are important, the social capital and latent privileges of marriage need not be lost between straight cis- marriage and the rest.  A chief example of what I mean here is the fact that being married (simply because of the label, having nothing to do with long-term commitment or health of relationship) significantly lowers individual’s risks of life-affecting depression and anxiety.  

      Now, the flip side of all of this is what you’re starting to bring up, Lohtar.  The idea that married privileges are unfair (great word, I know) to unmarried people (regardless of identities), particularly people who would never want to get married.  We could, I suppose, fight for legislation that opposes discrimination against unmarried people, but I see that going far worse and taking far longer than fighting for marriage equality.

      Ultimately, I’m as pragmatic as I am idealistic – an odd combo, I’ve been told.

      • lohtar

        I am firmly against civil unions as a replacement for marriage for certain groups of people.
        Even if it would come with exactly the same rights and benefits.

        Give something a different name for a specific group implies you do not want to give them the same. As many people have said in the blogosphere already, what you have than is ‘separate but equal’… Which is, like, bogus.Think we should just want ‘equal’.You are right probably about the fight for unmarried people being a tough one. However, if we want to fight for equality, I think it should be taken much larger than gender, orientation, union, whatever. Or perhaps, just a lot smaller: Individuals. Quite simple, really.That approach would, I think, also take so many other issues on so many levels away. People are people. Religious, LGBT, black, white or purple, whatever. As long as you respect others and the law, you should have equal rights. No?

        *wants to change everything at once*

        Also, just to have that said; don’t think it is that much better here in Europe. While most Western European states do have protective laws, only few allow marriage. Civil unions are more common, but as said not the same. What is even sadder though is that there appears to be an increase again in violence against LGBT people and less tolerance in general the last few years.
        Even here, hedonist gay-capital Berlin, still has a large group of people far from tolerant and LGBT-aimed violence does occur every now and than.

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  • hi

    hi i just wanted to say that you’ll get your way. Your government will be completly for immortality and its going to suck for ones god still remembers. Then your government will crash from its own sins. Its inevitable. You are causing more wars than peace with your “reasoning,” homosexuality is wrong because it defys every natural law of mother nature. Its a choice, and if you have chosen to be gay its all on you. Its even more immoral because men have that srong sexual desire to seek mates then most of woman do, and which will cause more cheating and so on for the same sex relationships. Its all about sex now adays, and what attracts you, but what attracts you isnt what makes good offspring, or has a good out come. It actually bites you in the ass more than you would believe. You “freedom seeking” people will get more freedom than you can handel and you will loose control. You will want more and never be satisfied. First its to be homo, and then it will be beastiality, then it will be chomos, and then it will be freedom to violate others as you wish, and then it will all lead to the strongest man survives. Which basically means if you are able to do something you want, then it is available to you. The government is alipping from he immoral laws one by one, and you are going to understand how wrong you were in the begining to promote aspects of immortality. Yes it is a sin to be gay, men have a tendacy to try to get what they cant have even if it affect faithful marriages, which marriages will be soon considered just a bond, and nothing religious to it. So there will be a multitude of cheating, lying, violating, sickness, death. Its gona get bad and its all due to your so called freedom. In about 20 years think back, and youll see.

    • hi


    • Melissa

      I’m sorry to hear you would choose to deny people their basic rights as stated in the 14th Amendment.

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  • jppatches

    First, I want to say I LOVE this blog. Just came across it yesterday and I’ve been voraciously reading ever since. Well done. I, too, like to think of myself as a social justice advocate, despite being white, straight, etc, and (I think) about as unaffected by sexism as a woman can be in this world. In short, very privileged. People often ask me why I care so much about gay rights, and I plan to use your post on “why I’m a social justice advocate despite being…” to help answer the question!

    One thing pops into my head when considering the medicalization of trans* identities. I understand that pathologizing an identity is marginalizing. But trans* folks often need/want surgery or other medical interventions – and the overwhelming consensus seems to be that it’s different than plastic surgery and medical insurance ought to pay for it. But insurance really only pays for procedures that are medically necessary…and medical necessity by definition means an underlying diagnosis. Insurance does NOT pay for plastic surgery – it doesn’t even pay for things it *deems* cosmetic (even if there is an underlying medical diagnosis), such as potentially life-saving weight loss surgery. So, if being trans* is not a medical/psychiatric diagnosis, how are procedures to make one’s outsides more congruent with one’s insides anything more than cosmetic?

    I don’t pretend to know the answer to this issue. I do know that now, it’s the worst of both worlds – pathologized, and usually not covered by insurance anyway.