I too believe that voting is a “serious moral obligation.” “Moral” in this sense means treating voting as an ethical obligation, an obligation you owe to yourself, your community and your country to choose wisely on all the issues, not just one.
Pope Benedict and Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke seem to want to reduce “morality” to a single issue, namely abortion. If they had their way, it seems they would want Catholics to take only one issue into account when choosing whether or not to vote for a particular candidate. It is clear, however, that many American Catholics, like many other Americans, have a far broader and more complex approach to the issues at stake in an election and vote accordingly.
When “morality” gets reduced to a single issue, great ethical contradictions can result, as was the case with the American Catholic Bishops on the health care debate. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has long advocated for universal health care. In the most recent debate over health care legislation, the Bishops had set out eight criteria for sound health reform legislation. But at the end of the day, they lost sight of their own stated moral goals for this important legislation and became myopic about one issue, that is, abortion. They kept “moving the goalposts” and increasingly lost sight of their own priorities in that debate. Their lack of a complex moral analysis threatened to imperil this important legislation, and thus threatened the health, well-being, and yes, lives of many Americans in the process.
Many issues at stake in an election are matters of conscience, including but not exclusively, whether reproductive choice will remain legal, safe, and available to women. Indeed many see keeping abortion legal, safe and available as part of their religious values and morals and a matter of conscience. Others, such as the Catholic hierarchy, disagree. But in a democracy, no one religious body can dictate to voters what it means to vote their conscience.
And there are clearly other matters for the conscience when one votes based on the issues at stake in an election. What about war? Poverty? Lack of proper nutrition, health care and decent housing? All these should be matters of conscience for the voter, and for many voters they are matters of conscience, from conservative to progressive. The reason all these issues are matters of conscience in how we exercise our moral obligation as voters is because these are often literally issues of life and death.
There is a lot at stake for us as voters and as citizens in terms of our moral obligations. To attempt to reduce morality to one issue, and one issue where people of good conscience often do disagree, is insulting to democracy and to the American voter.