Moral Norms Haven’t Lost Their Constituency

Here’s a moral quandary for our times: If a wife gets cloned, are she, her clone and the husband automatically polygamists? It makes one’s head ache even to think about it, which no doubt explains why most Americans oppose cloning and polygamy. In an annual Gallup poll on Americans’ views of what’s “morally acceptable,” just 9 percent said human cloning makes the grade. Even fewer (6 percent) said polygamy is acceptable.

If you want to live on the edge without inviting general disapprobation, put on a fur coat and get divorced at a casino—or at an execution. Seventy percent of adults said they view the death penalty as morally acceptable; majorities said the same of divorce (66 percent), gambling (64 percent) and buying/ wearing clothes made of fur (64 percent). Another finding suggests society has gotten ahead of itself in debating the legality of same-sex marriage. Fewer than half of adults (44 percent) view homosexual relations as morally acceptable. Then again, one might argue that this is merely a subset of public disapproval for non-marital sex. A less-than-overwhelming majority of respondents said sex between an unmarried man and woman is all right (58 percent). It’s striking that nearly as many (54 percent) said the same of having a baby outside of marriage. Meanwhile, no matter how desperate a housewife is, she’d better not clamber into bed with someone other than her husband: Just 5 percent of adults think it’s acceptable for married men and women to have an affair.

The poll also asked people’s views on the general state of moral values in the U.S. Two percent rated it “excellent,” 17 percent “good,” 40 percent “only fair” and 39 percent “poor.” And, as you can gather from the chart below, most people don’t see matters improving.