Morality can be thought about as a system of beliefs regarding how one should conduct oneself in personal relationships and in society. These beliefs are often influenced by religious teachings, schools of thought and personal values. Ethics, on the other hand, refer to set or system of principles, or a philosophy or theory behind them. In its simplest form, ethics can be thought about as a 'code of conduct'. More deeply, it is considered a philosophical analysis of a moral system.
If morality is more closely linked to 'Beliefs', then it takes on the essence of feeling. If ethics are tied to principles or codes of conduct, then it huddles more closely with reason.
Morals-Belief-Feeling ~~~~ Ethics-Principles-Reason
The distinction I just outlined was meant to draw these concepts apart. Let's put them back together. As stated early, ethics can also be the philosophy of morals. You can analyze a moral system, pulling it apart piece by piece and then reassembling it to see a larger picture. A moral belief might be to never kill another human being. An ethical analysis of this might reveal it is immoral not to kill in unique circumstances, such as stopping a shooter who is indiscriminately picking off innocent victims at a shopping mall. In this scenario, what is considered immoral in different light, such as killing another for selfish motives, can now be seen as moral. Here, motive shifts the morality. Inaction becomes immoral. The act of killing a shooter results in saving the lives of others, which is arguably a selfless act and deemed moral.
Now to arrive at what got me thinking about these things. This week the Supreme Court of the United States is considering the constitutionality of gay marriage cases (Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act). At their core, both cases are visibly divisive. The values of two divergent moral systems are colliding inside, and outside, the highest court in the land.
Religious and traditional groups see gay marriage as an assault on their moral codes. Their beliefs are being challenged. If one believes God designates homosexuality as a sin, then of course it falls in line that condoning gay marriage is an immoral act. The opposing argument takes this religious or traditional notion out of the picture and simply asks, "If two people love each other, should they not be granted the same rights as everyone else?"
I will not dissect the morals of both arguments, for that is an endless loop fed by the inflexible natures of two diametrically opposed beliefs. I would much rather apply ethical reasoning to these moral arguments. More specifically, I would like to apply ethical reasoning to the argument I stand strongly for.
The only ethical argument (and it is not very ethical) against gay marriage is that love between a man and a woman is the only 'good' love and all other forms of love are evil or sinful. Since some consider homosexual love to be evil, then it is their ethics to deny those individuals the right to marry. The false ethic here is the freedom to deny others freedom based on a personal religious sentiment.
The ethical arguments for gay marriage are plentiful. To grant gay marriage is to grant the ability for two loving people to hold each others hands, walk down the aisle and unite before loving friends and family. It is to grant the shared benefits that married couples currently enjoy: tax, insurance and medical benefits. Quite simply, it is to grant the right for two people to take a loving, committed relationship to the next level, to seal it with a symbolic bond.
My moral code spins around a core belief, or truth. Known as the Golden Rule, or Ethic of Reciprocity, it simply states to treat others as you would like to be treated and to not treat others as you would not like to be treated. Moreover, it is ethical to act against those whose moral codes lack this core truth. When one imposes their morality in a willful or bigoted manner over another, causing harm to that other, for the purpose of reaffirming a moral code, then that morality is most definitively immoral and by all rights unethical. It is perfectly fine to have your own moral system, but you should always consider the ethics of applying it to others.