My beliefs stem from two sources. First and foremost, they stem from Catholic teaching. Secondly, they stem from life experiences and events that have shaped me.
Since I spent a lot of time talking about this, let me start with ethical matters. There are several different issues that fall under this topic. These include abortion, marriage, and capital punishment. I will start by saying that I am pro-life without reservations or exceptions. I know that is not the most popular opinion, but I believe very strongly in the sanctity of life and I also believe that it should never be unjustly taken away.
That word "unjustly" is specifically picked because I do believe in capital punishment; which is not inconsistent with either Catholic teaching or being pro-life. I the Catholic Catechism (Second Edition), Part Three, Section 2, Article 5, paragraphs 2263-2267 talk about legitimate defense. [Note: In the 2005 Edition, it is slightly different. Go to Part Three, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 5, paragraphs 2263-2267] Paragraph 2267 says:
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility
have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the
Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if
this is the only possible way of effectively defending human
lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and
protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will
limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with
the concrete conditions of the common good and more in
conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the
state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who
has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without
definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming
himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an
absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."
(Paragraph 2267: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2267.htm)
(Part Three: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a5.htm)
In other words, the official teaching of the Church is that capital punishment is acceptable if it is necessary. To use the mantra of the pro-choice crowd, it should be "safe, legal, and [very] rare." I do also wish reference the Summa Theologiae, Second Part, Part II, Question 64, Article 3 in which St. Thomas Aquinas says:
I answer that, As stated above (Article 2), it is lawful to kill
an evildoer in so far as it is directed to the welfare of the whole
community, so that it belongs to him alone who has charge of
the community's welfare. Thus it belongs to a physician to cut
off a decayed limb, when he has been entrusted with the care of
the health of the whole body. Now the care of the common good
is entrusted to persons of rank having public authority:
wherefore they alone, and not private individuals, can lawfully
put evildoers to death.(http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#article3)
So, as long as capital punishment is proportional to the crime, we are sure of the guilt of the person to be executed, and there is no other plausible recourse, capital punishment is justified, moral, and ethical. Please do note that I am not cheerleading a bevy of executions, rather I am recognizing that capital punishment is not an intrinsic evil.
Next, I turn to abortion. Unlike capital punishment, abortion is an intrinsic evil In other words, it is evil under any circumstances and can never be justified. This is why I use it as a deciding factor in any political race that I am voting in. To vote for someone who supports an intrinsic evil is to support that evil by default. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience vote for someone who supports abortion. Now if every candidate supports an intrinsic evil, then I have the choice to sit out that particular race or to vote for the one who will do the least amount of damage.
Third is marriage. This is probably one of the stickiest situations for me personally. Marriage is a sacrament, and as such, Catholic teaching must play a part in my views. However, marriage has increasingly become an institution with civil implications that are separate from its religious implications. Because the US government extends tax breaks and other benefits to those who are married, I can support civil marriages. I am unalterably opposed to any law that might force churches to preform marriages that are against their beliefs, but for civil purposes, I do think marriage is a right that must be recognized for the sake of justice and equality.
[Added 10/17/12, 4:54 pm] Had a talk with a friend not too long ago who read this piece and she had an interesting idea. She had been talking with mutual friend and one of them came up with the following idea. Eliminate the term "marriage" entirely from the legal lexicon and replace it with "civil union", thereby reserving the term "marriage" solely for religious ceremonies. People would still go through the same steps as a marriage now and can privately call it a marriage. What this idea does is provide the same benefits legally to same-sex or opposite-sex couples, while simultaneously not redefining the concept of marriage. I really like this idea and it satisfies my reasons for supporting same-sex marriage.
There are many other ethical considerations that I could go into, but to keep this at something of a managable length, I will stop there. Let's move onto other issues.
Economically speaking, I tend to be more conservative than I am otherwise. That being said, there are definite exceptions based in the concepts of justice and equality. Since all life is sacred (cradle to grave), people have a certain dignity that must be upheld and maintained by the civil authorities as a part of their obligations under the social contract that undergirds any society. This social contract basically says that the people will give over some of their power to the government in exchange for protection and other purposes.
Now a part of this protection is that the government has an obligation to ensure that all people have a reasonable chance to support themselves and their family. This has implications in a living wage, healthcare, and other social welfare programs. Now, do these programs *HAVE* to come from the government? No, but the government does have a moral obligation to ensure that its citizens have a chance to live with dignity. This also impacts regulation of businesses. A government with laissez faire policies is not acting in a fashion that is consistent with its moral obligations. The government needs to ensure that businesses are treating their workers in a manner that is consistent with human dignity. If they are not, then the government has a moral obligation to step in and take the necessary steps.
In 2000, I was a staunch supporter of the future President Bush for one reason: compassionate conservativism. The idea undergirding this philosophy was that the government had the obligation to care for its citzens and protect their welfare, but should do it in a manner that was responsible and consistent with conservative political principles. See Compassionate Conservatism: What it is, What it Does, and How it Can Transform America by Marvin Olasky for a good explanation of the principles of compassionate conservativism. I do not think this philosophy was ever implemented fully and think it is the closest branch of conservativism to Catholic teaching.
Now, the government; and in fact people in general; also have an obligation to care for the planet that we have been given stewardship of. This means that environmental concerns must be taken into account when looking at candidates. Development is not inherently immoral, however uncontrolled or unsustainable development is. We need to be careful and use resources in a responsible manner that is not destructive and will not harm future generations.
Those are the big issues. There are all sorts of side issues I could explore (and I may do so in the future), but I think this gives enough to help people understand where I would come down on various issues.