I am saddened by the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision in Lewis v. Harris, which seeks to force the state to treat as marriages or the equivalent of marriages forms of sexual association that are inherently non-marital. In seeking to abolish the historic conjugal conception of marriage as the union of one man and one woman-leaving to the legislature the possibility of reserving the word "marriage" to male-female unions, but prohibiting it from preserving the substance of marriage as a conjugal union-the justices have dealt a terrible blow to the institution of marriage and the family, to the principles of democratic self-government and religious freedom, and to child well-being in our state.
Our state, like all states, has from the beginning recognized marriage, honored it, and sought to support and protect it. Yet marriage is not the creation of any state. It is a natural institution - with its own characteristics and features - that is prior to any particular political or legal system. While it is true, from a Catholic perspective, that Jesus elevated this natural institution to the level of the supernatural in establishing the sacrament of matrimony, this does not make marriage the creation of any religious community-including the Catholic Church. This is why believers (from many diverse communities) and non-believers alike can understand and affirm the nature of the marital good and its centrality in a well ordered society. It is why religious groups, despite their theological disagreements, recognize the validity of the conjugal marriages of people of other faiths.
Even if marriage was a type of institution that could be redefined, it would not be up to a court to decide whether to redefine it. It is up to the people, working through the constitutionally established institutions of democratic deliberation, to settle such matters. For the people now to acquiesce in a usurpation of their rightful authority by a court would, in the words of President Lincoln, be for them to "resign their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal." For the sake of constitutional democracy as well as for the sake of marriage itself, this ruling must not be permitted to stand.
Archbishop John J. Myers
October 25, 2006