When I was a boy growing up in a nearly all-white community in northern Illinois, I often heard people say that you can't legislate morality.
They would say this, usually, in response to proposals to pass civil rights legislation of various kinds. It was a way of holding on to their racial prejudice but hiding behind the idea that legislation cannot change people's hearts.
Most of the civil rights era legislation wasn't, of course, about legislating morality. It was, rather, about legislating equality under the law, a foundational constitutional principle.
Well, the sentiment that legislation can't change people's hearts has been shown false many times, but the idea of not legislating morality finds one of its most persuasive arguments in the era of Prohibition, which began on this date in 1919 when Nebraska ratified the 18th Amendment.
Prohibition, whatever its good motives to limit the potential destructiveness of alcholol consumption, was a clear attempt to legislate morality. And it failed miserably. Which is not to say that there shouldn't be regulation of the alcohol industry. There should be and there is.
Amost all legislation, by its nature, will have some aspect of morality threaded into it, but when we use legislative systems to try to get people to adopt the specific tenets and teachings of our particular religion, we inevitably run into trouble. (I'm looking at you, Women's Christian Temperance Union.) The only theocracy that works is in heaven. At least that's the theory.
(I found the image displayed today here.)
* * *
A NEW CALL FOR RESCUE
Perhaps we can't legislate morality, but we can act morally on our own, which is what an Orthodox Christian who opposes same-sex marriage suggests people do in Nigeria to protect gay people from the brutality of officialdom there. He's right that Christians in Nigeria should step in and rescue victims of this evil, as here and there a few of them did to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.