Some time in the next decade you’ll be driving along in your car, when a report will come over the radio:
In a surprise ruling, a district judge in San Francisco has ruled the state’s marriage laws unconstitutional – and has ordered California to stop issuing marriage licenses.
Judge Sarah Jones found that state-sanctioned, civil marriage violates the constitution’s equal protection clause. ‘Marriage’ she wrote, ‘creates a special class of individuals who can access hundreds of benefits that are unavailable to the unmarried. Marriage laws treat singles as second class citizens.’
It’s not clear what affect the ruling has on the millions of Californians who are already married.
There’s a growing movement in our country to scrap marriage altogether, or to privatize the institution – allowing couples to draft legal contracts that specify the terms of their unions. Instead of the state imposing a one-size-fits-all solution, couples (or any combination of adults) will be free to govern their domestic arrangements according to their own preferences.
This ethic fits perfectly with our modern understanding of personal liberty, autonomy and freedom of choice. Why should the state tell individuals how to arrange their personal affairs? Should the government decide how children are reared? And regarding adultery, why should the state have authority to regulate the sexual activities of consenting adults?
The legal foundations for the death of civil marriage are being laid in dozens of cases now being heard across the country. In state after state, judges are nullifying constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Every one of these decisions is based on the Fourteenth Amendment: states may not offer unequal protection to individuals based on marital status.
These opinions are setting the table for the abolition of civil marriage, since marriage itself discriminates against the unmarried. The very fact that the state confers benefits on one set of adults while denying them to others would seem to violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.
The only way to completely eliminate discrimination is for the state to exit the marriage business entirely. Then every adult would possess the same standing in the eyes of the law, regardless of whether he or she has a domestic partner or partners. No one would be a treated as second class based on their marital status —because the entire concept of marital status would no longer exist in civil law.
No amount of tweaking of other laws will fix the problem. Even if we granted to singles every benefit of marriage, the state is still giving special status to one group but not another. The very fact that the state legally recognizes one form of household is patently discriminatory against those who, for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling to conform to the state-defined ideal.
Here’s why civil marriage will not survive: the whole point of civil marriage is to discriminate. Marriage intentionally grants advantages to procreative unions that produce the next generation of citizens. The benefits are there to encourage adults to commit to one another so their children are raised in intact homes.
But recent court decisions have made it clear that procreation is no longer the central purpose of marriage. Instead, marriage exists to confer social status and recognize love among adults. Which begs the question: is this a legitimate function of the state? This is yet another argument to do away with state-sanctioned marriage.
You might say that singles have the right to marry – therefore, no discrimination exists. But that’s the same argument traditionalists made against gay marriage – an argument that’s been soundly rejected by the courts.
For example, traditionalists have argued that a lesbian has the right to marry a man – therefore, no discrimination exists. According to the courts, the theoretical ability to marry is immaterial – a person’s choice of a spouse is paramount, and must be recognized by the state. From here it’s just a short legal hop to the death of civil marriage: a person’s choice on whether to marry or not should have no bearing on his or her equal protection under the law.
Each time a judge overturns a marriage amendment, another layer of legal precedent is established for the abolition of state-sanctioned marriage. Once gay marriage is legal nationwide, an unmarried person will walk into a California court and sue to abolish marriage altogether. She’ll have the backing of a growing coalition of secularists, libertarians and the ACLU. And she’ll have a tall stack of freshly written case law to draw upon.
Once California goes, the rest of the states will abandon civil marriage over the next decade. Eventually a Hillary-appointed Supreme Court will finish the job in a 6-to-3 decision.
So will marriage become illegal? No. Couples will still wed – cakes will be baked, and bouquets will be tossed. But these unions will no longer be sanctioned by any governmental authority. The already confused area of family law will be thrown into more chaos as each couple generates the terms of its union. Family courts will be overwhelmed as every divorce will have to be independently adjudicated. Our national consensus of what a marriage is supposed to be will disappear – buried under an avalanche of individually drafted contracts.
Of course, the biggest losers will be the poor. The trend toward cohabitation will strengthen among couples who lack the resolve, sophistication and finances to hire an attorney. Poor women will lose significant legal protections and more children will grow up fatherless. Increasing numbers men will insist on “open relationships” in which sexual fidelity is not expected.
On the bright side, there will be more personal autonomy and equality. Singles – who recently became the majority of America’s adult population – will feel better about themselves. Their political clout will grow.
The elimination of state-sanctioned marriage will present both challenges and opportunities for the church and its men:
- We’ll see a surge of church marriages as large numbers of couples seek some sort of recognition of their unions.
- Churches will be free to play hardball with couples. For example, more churches will insist on pre-marital counseling for couples that want a church wedding.
- The church’s current emphasis on relationships will only increase as confusion reigns.
- The twin forces of economic and social disruption will push more people into poverty, forcing the church to expand its mission to serve the poor.
- Men in monogamous marriages will become rare – becoming either a beacon of hope or the object of scorn to wider society.
- Men’s ministry will become even more important as men deal with the wreckage of complete relational autonomy.
In pre-Victorian English society the elites married (think Lords and ladies), but the lower classes slipped in and out of common law relationships. We seem to be regressing to this model. We’re already seeing much higher marriage rates among the privileged. The elimination of state-sanctioned marriage is yet another policy pushed by elites (like no-fault divorce and fatherless childbearing) that will have disastrous consequences for the poorest among us.
So what do you say? Will state-sanctioned marriage be eliminated in our lifetimes? Is this a good or bad thing? Leave your comments below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.