Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Marriage: static or evolving

Early today I was listening to Professor Ralph Raico lecture on “The Epic Struggle for Liberty.” I’ve been enjoying the tapes quite a bit. He made one passing comment that caught my attention.

In Catholic France all children born to Protestants were considered illegitimate. The reason was simple. The tradition of the time was that one Catholic man married one Catholic woman in a Catholic ceremony. Protestant marriages were not recognized by the law and thus illegitimate.

Of course Protestants were not particularly happy with this and no doubt pushed for equal rights. The “family traditionalists” of the day I suspect whined about how Protestants were seeking special privileges and undermining the traditional concept of marriage.

The Religious Right today drones endlessly about the 2,000 year tradition of marriage and how gay people are changing it. Of course marriage has change constantly over those 2,000 years which these fundamentalists would know if they read anything but the Bible.

At one time a woman’s legal identity was fused with that of her husband and she lost her legal identity as the wife and husband “constitute but one person.” At one point the courts ruled that the husband “becomes absolute owner of the goods and chattels of his wife.” A woman was not allowed to enter into a legal contract for herself. Only her husband could do that. Since the man had total responsibility for his wife he was also free to “restrain” her as he saw fit.

This tradition view of marriage was thrown out eventually but it was still the traditional view. Traditionally the husband had the “right” to expect sexual gratification as he wished when he wished. The wife could not refuse and a man could not rape his wife. That traditional perspective changed. So too did the traditional view that spouses could not sue one another and that divorce was not possible or extremely difficult.

Of course we know that at one time many states argued that marriage was one man, one woman (same race) for life. The “for life” is gone so too is the “same race”.

What is traditional of course depends on which culture you want to refer to. Religious folk speak of the “Judaeo-Christian” culture. Presumably that includes the Old Testament where polygamy was accepted. And polygamy was practiced in US territories up until the late 1800s. Of course many Mormon fundamentalists still practice polygamy today. And that is a practice widely funded by welfare payments to the additional wives who are legally seen as “single mothers” thus eligible for state hand outs.

It was in 1958 that Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving married legally in Washington, DC and returned home to Virginia. She was black and he was white and Virginia said such marriages violated the traditional norm. The judge in the case, sounding like the Bible-beaters of today said:

“Almighty god created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The logic is not much different from today. We are to presume that some divine entity made two sexes therefore they were never to marry one another since he made them separate. He also made the races separate and the languages I might add.

The Lovings finally won when the Supreme Court ruled that the law was invalid. It was those nasty activist judges over riding the will of god again.

It appears that marriage has constantly changed and evolved. The fundie who thinks of it as a static institution knows not of what he speaks. But does that really surprise anyone?


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