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Thread: If adultery is immoral, why is it legal?

  1. #1
    Igneous Magma
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    If adultery is immoral, why is it legal?

    a·dul·ter·y/əˈdəlt(ə)rē/

    Noun:
    Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.
    There are of course open marriages where sex outside marriage is agreed by both spouses, but what of adultery that may be termed as "cheating"?

    Cheating on your partner is thought to be among the worst things one can do in a relationship, a breach of sexual intimacy, personal trust and often cited as proof that the cheater does not love their spouse. Yet is it anything worse than a broken promise, perhaps not that dissimilar to breaking a vow to stop going to the pub after work or to quit smoking at the behest of one's spouse?

    And if we can agree that adultery is immoral why is it that we do not legislate against it, as we legislate against other immoral actions such as theft, murder, vandalism, assault, verbal abuse and many other actions that consist of one party doing wrong by another?

    I am not suggesting that we should make adultery illegal, but I'm interested to see some discussion about it. Your thoughts?

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    Lobotomized Angry Citizen's Avatar
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    We don't legislate against lying, except in cases of perjury, yet it is immoral. The law and morality are two separate things.
    A man said to the universe:
    "Sir, I exist!"
    "However," replied the universe,
    "The fact has not created in me
    A sense of obligation."


    -- Stephen Crane

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    Sapere Aude Jack's Avatar
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    The more common the violation of morality, the less likely it is to become illegal. No legislator wants to be brought up on charges for violating something he helped criminalize. Of course this fails to explain (closeted) gay legislators who support anti-gay legislation.


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    Igneous Magma
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    While Jack and AC's point is valid, it neglects the fact that adultery was often and still is in some societies punishable with extreme prejudice. It's not just any kind of immorality. It use to have potentially serious social consequences aside from the morality issues if the woman was still young and wasn't a total pauper.

    It's an interesting question and I haven't researched it. But my wild guess is that:
    -the main reason pre-Reformation Europe lacked laws about adultery was paradoxically the lack of legal protections for women. A husband or a father was generally thought to be entitled to be juge, jury and executionner in matters of adultery. This was moderated by the way marriage was tied up into property and social status. A halfway reasonable husband would have taken into account the potential consequences in terms of vendetta, loss of dowry and so on. Non-lethal punishments such as beatings or settlements between the families concerned would have been common.
    -the main reason the reforms of the the Reformation didn't introduce pseudo-Islamic law in Europe even though that was where the general social evolution was heading was that the Gospel of John was canon. The Roman Bible (or its variants) became very important at the time and people could hardly miss the famous passage and its implications. I think post-Reformation laws against adultery were not unheard of but they were very much tempered by this wildcard. So, even after the Reformation and the development of the rule of law in Europe, adultery was mainly repressed extrajudicially.

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    Moderator crimethinker's Avatar
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    We recognize a difference between criminality and being a jerk. Criminality (usually) depends on concrete violations of another's rights, whether property or personal or whatever. There's no right, yet, protecting people from "not being lied to" or "not having others be a jerk to you". I can refuse to hold the door open for a man with crutches, and it makes me a jerk, not a criminal. Although, I suppose modern society will go more and more in the direction of grey areas in this regard, for valid enough reasons, because as far as I can tell there's no substantive difference between physical and a kind of 'psychological' assault. Put one foot in front of the other...
    For a void without a question is just perverse.

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    An Analyst& A Gadfly Yarn's Avatar
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    Doesn't adultery hurt you when it comes to divying up income in divorce proceedings? If so, it is punished in some cases.

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    And if we can agree that adultery is immoral why is it that we do not legislate against it, as we legislate against other immoral actions such as theft, murder, vandalism, assault, verbal abuse and many other actions that consist of one party doing wrong by another?
    Actually it is legislated against, just not prosecuted much...I personally don't believe in divorce but I also think the courts have more important things to prosecute then to waste time on adulterers.
    "The trouble with people is not so much with their ignorance as it is with their knowing so many things that are not so." ~ William Alanson White

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    Igneous Magma
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    Quote Quote by: finder View Post
    Actually it is legislated against, just not prosecuted much...

    I personally don't believe in divorce but I also think the courts have more important things to prosecute then to waste time on adulterers.
    I was speaking from the UK's perspective, where if there still is a law it is not enforced. At any rate a piece of legislation is only effective if it is enforced, so the point still stands.

    Quote Quote by: crimethinker
    We recognize a difference between criminality and being a jerk. Criminality (usually) depends on concrete violations of another's rights, whether property or personal or whatever. There's no right, yet, protecting people from "not being lied to" or "not having others be a jerk to you". I can refuse to hold the door open for a man with crutches, and it makes me a jerk, not a criminal. Although, I suppose modern society will go more and more in the direction of grey areas in this regard, for valid enough reasons, because as far as I can tell there's no substantive difference between physical and a kind of 'psychological' assault. Put one foot in front of the other...
    I think there is a very obvious difference between psychological pain and physical pain: the former is highly preferable. If it were a choice between being locked in a room and beaten and being locked in a room and insulted I know which I'd opt for. It is impossible to do meaningful psychological damage to someone without threats of exclusion, violence or coercion or some sort. So long as we legislate against those things psychological assault would not be an issue.

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    Igneous Magma
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    Quote Quote by: finder View Post
    Actually it is legislated against, just not prosecuted much...
    I knew about the Scarlet Letter but I had no idea of the extent of the legal repression of adultery in the USA. And it seems it hasn't gone away!
    Here's the full source story according to which seems a couple has even been executed for it: ExecutedToday.com » 1644: Mary Latham and James Britton, adulterous lovers
    I guess one should never underestimate the ability of Protestants to ignore their canonical Gospels when it suits them...

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    Sapere Aude Jack's Avatar
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    Adultery can get you discharged from the military, so I guess there are penalties like finder notes above.


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    KOEKOEK KayTwee's Avatar
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    It's not the place of the government to legislate morality, full stop.

    I think a better question to ponder is "why has government co-opted the silly religious notion of marriage and lent it credence?"
    .::insert witty comment here::.

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    Male Lesbian ruksak's Avatar
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    I've had about enough of legislated morality. In no way do many of these laws (including the one purposed in the OP) offer to help better our society.
    ATTENTION! Due to recent cut backs, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.

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