Proposition 8’s Moral Dilemma
Most readers are likely familiar with California’s Proposition 8 — a ballot initiative to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry by amending California’s state constitution (and thus overriding the California Supreme Court’s In re Marriage Cases decision this spring that found a right to same-sex marriage under the California constitution). In short, a “yes” vote on Proposition 8 ends gay marriage in California; a “no” vote protects the right to gay marriage.
Imagine that you are participating in a phone bank placing calls to encourage Californians to vote against Proposition 8 (in other words, you favor gay marriage). You place a call, and the voter on the other end tells you that she is opposed to same sex marriage and that’s why she’s voting no on Proposition 8. Your response? Do you say “Thanks for your time — make sure you get to the polls!” or do you correct her error, and explain that a no vote on Proposition 8 is actually a vote in favor of gay marriage?
After a friend recounted this real-life scenario this weekend, we presented the question to several (opposite sex) couples, and found that a fault line ran straight down the middle of each pair — most frequently (but not always), the women thought that there was no need to correct this voter’s error. There were two arguments made on this front; first, that there’s no obligation on the caller’s part to remedy the voter’s misperception, which was not, after all, created by the caller. Second, getting into the means-ends debate, the greater moral good of allowing gay marriage justifies the perhaps less moral stance of allowing this confused individual to vote against her true preferences. On the other side, most (but not all!) of the men argued that the ends don’t justify the means, and that the caller had a moral obligation to correct the voter’s misconception of Proposition 8. Their argument went something like this — you’re out canvassing for Obama on election day and someone you stop on the street says, “I’m not interested because I’m heading into that voting booth right now to vote for McCain!” If this voter is actually walking into the wrong polling place (assume, for argument’s sake, that you know where they should be voting) and will not be allowed to vote, are you justified in failing to correct their error? I omit the obvious and interesting counter-arguments here, but am intrigued to hear how readers in the caller’s shoes would have responded.
Moreover, although our “poll” was blatantly unscientific, I was interested in the gender dimension of the moral response. While one could perhaps argue that women prioritized the same-sex relationship over more abstract moral principles, I don’t think our results map precisely onto Carol Gilligan’s analysis of the ways in which men and women reason differently when it comes to morals. But I am curious whether this gender divide would persist in a more scientific study, and if so, why that difference might exist.