How can acts that make some people feel bad be acceptable?
Let's take the thorny issue of affairs. One perspective is that once two people have committed to a relationship then any breach of that bond through a romantic connection to another person is wrong and should be prohibited.
A social liberal doesn't agree with this hard and fast rule.
First, let's pass this action through the "physical harm to person or property" test.
Jenny and Fred are married. Jenny has an affair with George. Fred doesn't find out about it and notices no change in their marriage. Has Fred been hurt physically - no. This action has not breached the harm test.
What if Fred does find out about it when he sees an expose on the television about his wife's affair? Jenny's action didn't change - there was no physical harm to Fred. But what about emotional harm?
This is where the context is all important. Let's develop a scale to measure the context.
Relationship monogamy scale
(modified from the original Kinsey Scale)
1 - Totally monogamous, no incidental emotional contact with others permitted
2 - Monogamous, incidental emotional contact with others is accepted
3 - Monogamous, more than incidental emotional contact with others is accepted
4 - Partly open, sexual contact outside relationship permitted in certain circumstances
5 - Mainly open relationship, one committed relationship with other sexual contact permitted with conditions
6 - Totally open relationship, one committed relationship with sexual contact permitted with others
7 - Polyamorous, no conditions attached to any relationships
If Fred and Jenny's relationship is a 6, Fred will have no problem with this TV revelation. He would accept the sexual contact with George as being perfectly normal.
But if their relationship is a 2, he will view the contact as breaching their marriage agreement.
This is where it gets interesting. Fred can view this breach of their marriage in a variety of ways. He can choose to feel hurt and betrayed. He can choose to treat this as a fundamental breach and leave the marriage. He can choose to be surprised by the revelation and ask Jenny to enter into counselling. Or he can choose to accept Jenny's actions as a minor infringement and continue as normal, resuming their previous agreement.
He can CHOOSE?? Are you serious?? Yes, this is exactly what he can do. Indeed, with most statistics citing that 25-50% of married people have an affair, this is a decision that is being made very often.
Does this condone Jenny's behavior? If their relationship was a 2, no it doesn't. But that is a private matter between Fred and Jenny.
Without demeaning the personal side, it is much like a commercial agreement - if there is a breach by one side, there may be consequences. In a breach of a personal relationship, there may also be consequences - and as sad as the consequences may be, that is OK for those consequences to play out in whatever way they will.
Providing the harm test is not breached, people should be at liberty to act in whatever way they wish - they just need to accept that there will be consequences of any action.
Groups of people are free to impose social norms on themselves, but breaches are civil matters between those individuals, they are not a matter for the State.
(Clarification: having a secret extramarital relationship is no different to having a relationship when the other party finds out. If the action would not be acceptable if it was learned about, it wouldn't be acceptable if they didn't find out.)
Let me know what you think
Some statistics on infidelity: