It would be rather easy for priests to refuse to sign wedding certificates, thus declining to act as agents of any government that has redefined marriage, noted Maggie Gallagher, co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage. But what are ordinary believers supposed to do?
"If a priest cannot in good conscience cooperate with the state in creating a marriage, can a good Catholic? ... An actual withdrawal of Catholics from the public and civil institution of marriage," she noted, responding to Weigel, requires more than a gesture. Instead, it is "a huge endeavor that would require the creation of alternative means of enforcing the civil aspects of the marriage commitment (or leaving women and children unprotected).
"Abandoning that legal framework could cost us a lot of money potentially, too: Our widows would not get the inheritance exemption, it would take additional money to secure legal parenthood, etc."
Besides, she asked, why is it a prophetic witness for shepherds to opt out of a government system, while members of their flocks are -- if they want to be legally married -- forced to cooperate with that system?
Gallagher concluded: "It's no great sacrifice for the priest not to sign a marriage contract, but it is a potentially great sacrifice for the Catholic family. If it's no sacrifice, what is the witness?"
Meanwhile, strategists who want to defend centuries of traditional teachings about marriage must face the reality that, as important as these legal squabbles may be, the most damaging blows to the institution of marriage are taking place at the grassroots, argued Matthew Warner, blogging for The National Catholic Register. Will refusing to sign off on civil marriages simply push lukewarm believers further from the church?
"People aren't really changing how they feel about marriage based on the civil definition. They are changing the civil definition because their hearts have already long changed about marriage," he noted.