There’s a lot of discussion in the comments from the post the other day on a Virginia lawmaker’s attempt to outlaw oral sex for minors (but not regular sex). I used to be in the “Don’t legislate your morality on me!” camp as well, but the more I’ve thought about it, the less I think there’s any such thing as law that isn’t imposed morality in some way or another, so I no longer find that line of argument all that persuasive.
I also tend to agree with originalist thinking which suggests the Constitution and Bill of Rights was never understood to be any barrier to laws that today are generally regarded as being unconstitutional. This is evidence by the number of states who had laws barring such practices, and even going so far as to establish religion. But that’s not to say I think in the modern era I think such laws are just fine and peachy.
I believe criminal law should generally reflect widely held societal values. We nearly universally agree that crimes like armed robbery, burglary, theft, fraud, murder, etc, are moral wrongs and deserving of legal punishment. Regardless of what the social consensus in 1782 Massachusetts was in regards to church attendance, or what the consensus was in regards to sodomy in 1779 Pennsylvania, the consensus today is not even close to universal. When laws fail to reflect a broad consensus, it undermines respect for the law as a whole. Prohibition is a great example of a moralizing law that failed to achieve any broad social consensus, and is widely regarded as a failure.
Randy Barnett, in his book Restoring the Lost Constitution, has interesting ideas about how incorporation of the 9th Amendment through the 14th Amendment brings about constitutional limits on the state police power, offering a more originalist theory for how anti-sodomy laws could be held unconstitutional. While I find this personally appealing, there’s a lot that I think could be criticized on originalist grounds. But regardless of whether a law is constitutional or not, I do think we wade into dangerous waters when we criminalize behavior there’s no broad social consensus for criminalizing. That is the root of “Don’t impose your morals on me!” I’ve often though that perhaps we should require a supermajority to create criminal laws, and leave bare majorities for matters like budgets, civil procedure, and other internal governmental matters. If government wants to create a crime with penalties, it should be on something most everyone agrees ought to be a crime.