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Both Sides of 'Goodridge' Validate Polygamy

Date: Dec 09, 2003
Word Count: 1000 words
Cross-Reference: Goodridge, Massachusetts Court, "Same-Sex Marriage"

Without realizing it, arguments from both sides of the Massachusetts case show polygamy is valid.

On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts State Supreme Judicial Court determined, in a 4-3 decision, that its state marriage licensing laws were unconstitutional under the Massachusetts State Constitution. In deciding the Goodridge (et al.) v. Department of Public Health case, the Court gave the Massachusetts Legislature 180 days to solve the matter so that such "discrimination" would no longer occur in Massachusetts law. 
Many liberals hailed the decision and many conservatives decried it. Without realizing it, both sides end up validating polygamy. 
The case involved seven separate "same-sex couples" who tried to obtain marriage licenses in Massachusetts in the Spring of 2001. Because they were not opposite-sex couples, all were denied such licenses by the state's Department of Public Health. 
They filed suit, asserting that the restriction in the state's marriage law, denying their access to marriage licenses, was not valid on two state constitutional grounds. They argued that it violates "equal protection" under the law and the right to "due process and liberty" to marry whom they choose. 
In April, 2002, a Superior Court judge ruled against them. He determined that not granting marriage licenses to "same-sex couples" does "rationally" advance the state's interest in protecting the reason for marriage, procreation. The word, "rational," would become the most vitally important factor in the Goodridge decision. 
The case was then appealed, bringing it to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. It was first thought that the case would be decided by mid-July 2003. But as the Lawrence v. Texas case had just been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court only a short three weeks theretofore, deciding the Goodridge case was delayed. 
When they finally decided it on November 18, 2003, the Court addressed the two grounds asserted by the plaintiffs. The majority wrote, "For due process claims, rational basis analysis requires that statutes 'bear a real and substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals, or some other phase of the general welfare.' ...For equal protection challenges, the rational basis test requires that 'an impartial lawmaker could logically believe that the classification would serve a legitimate public purpose that transcends the harm to the members of the disadvantaged class.'" 
In essence, these "rationality" tests place the burden upon the State to both provide and prove a rationale of greater societal good being achieved in order to justify any law which effectively creates harm or disadvantage to a class of individuals. 
The majority made it clear, "Any law failing to satisfy the basic standards of rationality is void." 
The Department of Public Health, therefore, argued three rationales for such marriage restrictions. They asserted that the State must limit licensed marriages to only "opposite-sex couples" in order to provide "a favorable setting for procreation," to ensure "the optimal setting for child rearing," and to preserve "scarce State and private financial resources." 
The Court's majority refuted all three rationales. 
First, since the law does neither deny nor forbid infertile, post-fertile, or non-coital marriages, a "procreation" requirement for marriage licenses is not rational. 
Second, "excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage will not make children of opposite-sex marriages more secure," the majority declared. Since marriage licenses are not denied to selfish, "less-optimal" parents for "opposite-sex marriages," an "optimal child-rearing environment" requirement for marriage licenses is not rational. 
Third, since the law grants marriage licenses to "opposite-sex couples" regardless of need - or non-need - for state services or assistance, the argument of "preserving scarce State resources" for denying marriage licenses to others is not rational. 
In overturning the lower court's decision, the majority decided, "The marriage ban works a deep and scarring hardship on a very real segment of the community for no rational reason. The absence of any reasonable relationship between, on the one hand, an absolute disqualification of same-sex couples who wish to enter into civil marriage and, on the other, protection of public health, safety, or general welfare, suggests that the marriage restriction is rooted in persistent prejudices... Limiting the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage to opposite-sex couples violates the basic premises of individual liberty and equality under law protected by the Massachusetts Constitution."  
In a pair of dueling footnotes, the Court's majority and the dissenting minority briefly addressed that decision's ramifications regarding polygamy. 
The majority wrote, "Nothing in our opinion today should be construed as relaxing or abrogating the... polygamous prohibitions of our marriage laws." 
But the dissenting minority pointed out that the decision could equally transform other restrictions "on marriage into an infringement of a right of fundamental importance. For example, if one assumes that a group of mature, consenting, committed adults can form a 'marriage,' the prohibition on polygamy... infringes on their 'right' to 'marry.'" 
Indeed. To see the obviousness of that, one need only to replace the words, "same-sex couples," with (consenting-adult) "polygamous families" in the majority's refutations of the Department's asserted rationales, and in every other place of the majority's opinion. The majority may deny it all they want, but they absolutely did validate consenting-adult polygamy.  
However, the Court's majority and its supporters are not the only ones hereby validating polygamy. Those who support the Department's three rationales for the marriage restrictions - as many conservatives argue those very points - unwittingly end up validating polygamy too. 
First, polygamy creates an even more "favorable setting for procreation." 
Second, polygamy empowers wives who want to stay home with the children, equally empowering other wives who want to work. It motivates men to profound maturity and responsibility. Children can be raised at home by family members who love them - rather than being raised by low-paid strangers at daycare. Unquestionably, that creates an "optimal setting for child rearing." 
Third, polygamy can free abandoned single moms from the "work-just-to-pay-for-day-care" cycle, empowering them to leave or avoid the welfare trap. That helps to preserve "scarce State and private financial resources." 
Talk about validating polygamy! Just as supporters of the majority's decision obviously validate polygamy, all who oppose the decision, arguing those rationales, also validate polygamy - perhaps, even moreso. 
Hence, Goodridge reveals what everyone agrees. Consenting-adult polygamy is valid. 


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