Chai R. Feldblum


The Moral Rhetoric of Legislation

Chai R. Feldblum

In his Essay, Bleeding Heart: Reflections on Using the Law to Make Social Change, Tom Stoddard set out to answer a question that challenges many of us who work to advance our view of social justice: “When and how, if ever, can the law change society for the better? … Is the law an effective tool for social change? (Or should I have become a social worker instead of a lawyer?)” Stoddard’s answer is that law can be an effective tool for social change, but only when it achieves the goal of “culture-shifting” and not simply “rule-shifting.” In Stoddard’s view, law has the capacity to achieve a number of rule-shifting goals: it can create new rights and remedies for victims, it can alter the conduct of the government, and it can alter the conduct of citizens and private entities. But law also has the potential to result in “culture-shifting”–it can express a new moral ideal or standard and can change cultural attitudes and patterns. However, I believe there are certain unique challenges posed in achieving the goal of equality for gay people that are not fully explored in Stoddard’s analysis.