Prior to the Goodridge decision being handed down, I argued in the Wardle-Strasser-Duncan-Coolidge anthology Marriage and Same-Sex Unions: A Debate, which was published in early 2003, that there was no discrimination, no inequality in the laws that restricted marriage to the union of one man and one woman. These laws applied equally to all persons regardless of their sexual orientation. But now, with Goodridge and In Re Marriage Cases, the meaning of equality has been given a skewed definition. Thus, I think it is now possible to expect that the actions of states which target those in committed polygamist relationships will face challenges based on parallel liberty, dignity, autonomy, and equality arguments. These arguments will be founded on the interesting but flawed judicial interpretations of the Goodridge and In Re Marriage Cases majority opinions. Moreover, I think that those states which have recently targeted polygamists with the compulsion of their regulatory authority can expect legal challenges to their actions which contravene the liberty, dignity, autonomy, and equality of polygamists.
These challenges will be the fruits of Goodridge and In Re Marriage Cases that likely were not intended but will follow if the concepts of liberty, dignity, autonomy, and equality defined by these decisions and granted to some persons are to be granted to all. It will be interesting to see what others think about these matters.
From my own view as a lay Catholic, a parent, and a catechist, I see a very serious problem with the language. Both the Church and the California Supreme Court are using the word “marriage”. However, they mean two very different things. The Church means the sacramental union of one man and one woman. They are joined by God in a relationship that mirrors the love of Christ for His Church. God uses this totally self-giving love to bring forth the gift of life itself. Two men or two women cannot form this kind of sacramental union. It is impossible for them to be truly married.
When the state refers to marriage, it refers to a contractual relationship between two people. They possess a joint legal identity. Up until now, these two people have always been a man and a woman. But now the state sees no secular reason to restrict these legal unions to one man and one woman. Using the legal logic currently in vogue, I think Fr. Araujo is correct when he predicts state sanctioned polygamy as the next step in the evolution of the state definition of marriage.
So should the Church continue to cooperate with the state as a minister of marriage? I am not sure. In the United States, the religious rite of marriage qualifies as a civil marriage as well. This made sense when the state and the Church were talking about the same thing when they spoke of marriage. However, now that the state and the Church have such divergent definitions of marriage, perhaps it is time for the Church to clearly distance itself from the civil aspects of marriage. Perhaps the Church should continue to offer the sacrament of Holy Matrimony just as it always has, but couples who want their relationship defined as marriage by the state will have to be married by the state as well. This sounds like a royal headache for newlyweds, but it also clearly differentiates the sacramental wedding from the legalistic state defined marriage. Of course, the risk is that more couples would forgo the sacrament and just have a civil wedding. But maybe that is preferable to having Holy Matrimony lumped in with the endless permutations of state defined “marriage”. Would that make it easier for my seventh grade CCD students to understand the sacrament of marriage?