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Reflections on Ethics 30
Voting Ethics – a Discussion

By The Reverend Andrew Mackowiak

A discussion on this article has been opened in Debate and Discourse. Please feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion via the contact page.

Recently, while having an innocuous conversation with a friend of mine, she casually mentioned that she had signed her name to a petition to amend the Ohio Constitution to ban gay marriage in our state.  This took me quite aback, and set off a long and heated discussion on whether gay marriage should be made legal or not.  I presented each of my points by showing the (rational and logical) train of thought that produced them and asked her to do the same with hers.  Not surprisingly, she did not, claiming that it was just “her belief” and that she had a right to vote along said lines.  When I asked her why her belief should be legislated to apply to others, she came up with no reasons to do so, yet maintained that it was her right to vote for what she believes, just as it is my right to vote for what I believe.

Our discussion raised an interesting question for me and other Americans who are about to vote in the upcoming election: Is it one’s right to vote as they believe, or is it instead one’s duty to vote for what reason dictates?  As the system is currently set up, it is certainly one’s undeniable right to vote for the candidates and issues as they see fit.  That, as she put it to me, is the whole point of voting.  I must, however, disagree with her here in principle – although I agree that it is one’s right, I do not think that makes it the right thing to do.

The separation of church and state is written into the United States Constitution.  While this is meant to apply to the government, a logical deduction from this separation is that each individual voter is called upon to detach from their theological views when voting and instead consider the objective merits of the issue at hand.  To quote former president (and noted Catholic) John F. Kennedy,

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute - where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote - where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference - and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

While his statement does not specifically endorse the supposition written above, it certainly seems to support it in principle.

I know that there are many religious people that believe this, and vote on issues accordingly.  To give a pertinent example, I have some Catholic friends who are 100% against banning gay marriage in a legal sense, yet they are equally against allowing it within the Catholic Church.  It is precisely that kind of separation that I wish to see amongst all voters.  Not everyone shares this opinion, as evidenced by my previously mentioned friend.  I must admit that I do not understand why.  As an agnostic, perhaps it is easier for me to only look at objective merits of issues than it is for some others – I have no religious beliefs to ignore.  However, that also makes it much harder for me to understand the other position.  It both confuses and angers me when others would seek to impose those of their personal beliefs which have no basis in logic or ethics on the rest of society in the form of laws.

Is this too much to ask of voters across our nation – even across the world?  I would hope not.  Our society has come a long way from the theocracy initially established by the Puritan settlers, and it continues to progress forward today.  With every step forward – those strides that are today seen as both beneficial and obvious – there was much opposition, yet each time the light of reason won.  Perhaps if everyone used only reason and logic to dictate their voting policy, the world would be made a much better place much sooner than anyone thinks possible.  I hope that we can find out soon.