There are no objective rules determining what is and what is not moral. The desire and the ability to make moral rules are products of human development and the desire to live harmoniously in groups. In other words, morality is a human invention and does not exist outside human society.
All moral rules are made by societies and often differ from each other. There is no right or wrong in this, except inasmuch as some moral rules attempt to limit the right of an individual or a smaller group to live their lives in the way they wish to live.
Of major concern in this area is the fundamental concept that the rights of one individual to do as they wish should only be exercised when it does not interfere with another individual exercising their rights. This incorporates the fundamental right of an individual to remain safe, not to be coerced, not to be treated violently, dishonestly, contemptuously, disdainfully, or any of the other negative and frequently abusive attitudes so often displayed by self centred individuals who choose to live a life taking advantage of others or dominating others. This fundamental right is so very important because it rightly forms the basis for many restrictive laws.
Morality is usually thought of as referring to sexual morality, but it is much wider in scope than that. It is generally considered immoral to lie, to deceive, to steal, to discriminate, to hate, to persecute or to murder and it includes a host of other undesirable behaviours. Many of these behaviours include aspects that are illegal and forbidden by the state, but many others are simply behaviours that society finds socially unacceptable and unwilling to tolerate.
This concept, that each individual has the right to live their life in a manner which gives them most satisfaction, provided that doing so does not interfere with others doing the same, should surely be the basis for the concept of morality in our society. It should be emphasised that this concept has both positive and negative aspects. An individual living their life as they want may include doing something. It may also include not doing something. In either case that is their choice. However, that individual does not have the right to force a second person to do something they do not wish to do just to enable the first individual to do what they want. Neither do they have the right to stop the second person from doing something they want to do, for the same reason.
Based on this concept, it would be clearly immoral to force another person into having sexual relations of any kind, since doing so would force them to do something they did not want to do. It would also be immoral for a third party to stop two people from engaging in consensual sexual relations when both of them wanted to do so, no matter what their sexual preferences are.
Many societies understand this concept when applied to freedom of speech, accepting that people may say what they want as long as it does not defame others or cause any negative actions to be taken against others due to inciting hatred. There is no reason this concept could not be applied to more areas than freedom of speech and it should be considered as a fundamental principle for determining what behaviour is acceptable in society. It is sometimes expressed as, “Your right to swing a bat ends when it hits my face” .
There are difficulties with this, no doubt, since any general rule will have some exceptions. Often there are conflicting rights, and a determination has to be made as to which takes precedence. Over a period of time society usually determines this by displaying general acceptance for one in contrast to the other, which may or may not change over time. An example is breast feeding babies in public places. At one time, not so long ago, this was considered unacceptable. Now it is much more accepted, and is increasingly becoming so. While there are still occasional reports of mothers being criticised for breast feeding in public, they are becoming less frequent and those making them treated with more disdain. Obviously, society in general feels that the right of a baby to be fed and the right of a mother to feed her child takes precedence.
It is in this way that society establishes its rules of interaction between individuals and morality. Those out of step with society still have the right to behave as they wish, of course, unless what they want to do has been specifically banned or declared to be illegal. This includes restrictions imposed by non governmental groups, store owners for instance, who have the right to decide what can and cannot be done on their property, although those decisions are as subject to the law as any other.
There is, of course, a difference between morality expressed in private settings as compared to business settings. Business comes under the authority of the state and is governed by its laws applicable to commerce. In general, everyone, whether a customer or an employee, is to be treated the same. In private life, however, a different approach is taken.
One of Canadians’ constitutional rights is the freedom of association. That is, people may associate with anyone they choose based on any criterion they choose. If a restaurant owner does not wish to eat with a homosexual then he is at liberty to refuse to invite one into his home. That is his right, but in his commercial restaurant a homosexual customer must be greeted, seated and served the same as any other customer. Similarly, a private club may restrict membership based on almost any criterion, with some exceptions, but if that club engages in activities among the general public (perhaps as a fund raiser) they must make those activities available to any member of the public whether they approve of the person’s actions or not. Unfortunately, many members of private clubs presume that all activities of that club may be conducted on the same basis as it is among its private members, but that is just not the case. As soon as even a single member of the public is involved, the anti-discrimination laws come into play. Hall rentals by churches are a typical example. These must not exclude same sex weddings if opposite sex weddings are welcomed from any member of the general public.
It seems to be natural for people to want their cake and to eat it too, but in this arena it cannot be allowed. While freedom of conscience and religion are important, one person’s exercising of them cannot be permitted to interfere with another person’s exercising of the self same rights, nor can they be used to justify behaviour or actions which violate our constitution and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms in their most fundamental aspects by enabling discrimination in areas pointedly forbidden. Freedom of conscience and religion and the right to live in a society free from discrimination are for all Canadians equally, whether religious, atheist or not.
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