Robert P. George, law professor at PrincetonUniversity, has recently released a new book titled Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism. In this book he discusses the meaning of marriage; in particular why so called “homosexual marriage” should be rejected and excluded from the meaning of marriage. An essay adapted from his new book on the subject of marriage is given at the Intercollegiate Review website.
So what is marriage exactly? As Robert George states in the opening paragraph of his essay:
“Marriage is an all-encompassing sharing of life. It involves, like other bonds, a union of hearts and minds—but also, and distinctively, a bodily union made possible by the sexual-reproductive complementarity of man and woman. Hence it is ordered to the all-encompassing goods of procreation and family life, and it calls for all-encompassing commitment, one that is pledged to permanence and sexual exclusivity and fidelity. Marriage unites a husband and wife holistically, not merely in an emotional bond but also on the bodily plane in acts of conjugal love and in the children such love brings forth—for the whole of life. Marriage is a form of relationship—indeed, the form of relationship—in which a man and a woman unite in a bond that is naturally ordered to, and would be fulfilled by, their conceiving and rearing children together. And those who enter into this form of relationship—the human good of marriage—are truly and fully participants in it even where their bond is not blessed with the gift of children.”
The above description is beautiful, poetic, and true. However it seems to be missing something. Yes; only a man and woman together can have children. Yes, marriage is not only about the love between a man and a woman but also the basis for providing a happy home for children. Yes, marriage is an all-encompassing commitment that is pledged to permanence, sexual exclusivity, and fidelity. Marriage is more than this however.
In reading Robert George’s article on marriage it is well argued, it does make a good case against “homosexual marriage” given the mores of contemporary society. The article however is entirely too timid for my tastes. A much stronger case against “homosexual marriage” could have been made by going “back to basics” and not accepting the corruptions of the institution of marriage that have already taken hold in the society.
In the history of marriage there have been four major weakenings in the marital institution so far. First was the repeal of the coverture laws and the idea of coverture, second came the progressive weakening of marriage equaling the financial support of wives, third came martial dissolution at the will of either party, now the fourth weakening of marriage is happening now with the acceptance of homosexual couples as being “married.”
So what is marriage traditionally in the English and early American tradition? It is coverture. People do not associate marriage with coverture today but historically coverture was the foundation of marriage. From Wikipedia:
“The system of feme sole and feme covert developed in England in the High and Late Middle Ages as part of the common law system, which had its origins in the legal reforms of Henry II and other medieval English kings. It also held sway in English-speaking colonies because of the influence of the English common law there. This situation persisted until the mid-to-late 19th century, when married women’s property acts started to be passed in many English-speaking legal jurisdictions, setting the stage for further reforms.”
In the United States coverture was largely undone with the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1839 to 1865. Mississippi was the first state to pass such an act in 1839.
The idea of coverture was that the married woman was a “covered woman” under the “protection and influence” of her husband. The wife and husband were viewed as being one legal entity. The husband was considered to own and control all financial assets and property in the marital unit. Also the wife’s earnings were considered to belong to her husband. There were some exceptions to these general rules. There were some arrangements where the wife would have legal control of some property during her marriage for her sole use even while the husband was considered to own the property. Also the wife was entitled to one-third of the husband’s property upon the husband’s death to support her as a widow. For this reason the husband could not dispose of his property as he wished without his wife’s consent as the wife could reclaim her third of the husband’s estate after his death for her own support. This led to the wife’s consent “free from coercion or pressure” being required for many property transactions.
The other side of coverture beyond the husband controlling and owning all the property was the “law of agency” or the “law of necessaries” where the wife was presumed to be acting on the husband’s behalf whenever she bought “necessaries;” clothing, food, lodging, and medicine for domestic use. The law of agency defined “necessaries” according to the husband’s status, occupation, and wealth. As the great English jurist William Blackstone (1723 to 1780) said “The husband is bound to provide his wife with the necessaries by law, as much as himself; and, if she contracts debts for them, he is obliged to pay them.” What this means is that under coverture husbands literally had the legal obligation to provide for their wives and wives could unilaterally go out shopping for the basic necessities according to their husband’s status, occupation, and wealth and their husbands would then be legally bound to pay the debts their wives incurred.
This description of coverture is based on how coverture worked in England from 1660 to 1800. Coverture is what marriage historically was in the English and early American tradition; men controlled all property and income and men were fully legally responsible for the support of their wives. Coverture is the historical starting point of what marriage was originally.
So, the first weakening of the marital institution came with the repeal of the coverture laws (1839 to 1865); the undoing of husbands’ legal control of property and income and the legally enforced obligation of husbands to support their wives.
The second weakening of the marital institution was the ever diminishing connection between marriage and the financial support of wives. Below is a table that looks at the labor force participation of women 35 to 44 years old according to marital status across time in the United States.
Definitions: The demographic group represented is women 35 to 44 years old. The percentages given are the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR). 1890 refers to white women; native born with both parents native. “Native” meaning born in the United States. 1940 and 1970 refers to all white women. 1990 and 2010 refers to all women. There were large racial differences in women’s LFPR before 1990; the racial differences were not so great in 1990 and 2010. So white women’s LFPR for 1890, 1940, and 1970 being combined with all women’s LFPR in 1990 and 2010 doesn’t distort the comparison across time much. “Total” is all women 35 to 44; “Married” is Married women; “Single” is Single or Never Married women; “Other” is Other marital status or more specifically Widowed and Divorced women combined. This data is for the United States.
Labor Force Participation Rate of Women 35 to 44 years old by Marital Status
This is the data in the above table expressed in graphical form:
Here is looking at the decline in the support of married women strictly according to the ever increasing proportion of white married women who have worked since 1890.
You can see from the above line graph that white married women working increased steadily from 1890 to 2000; accelerating after 1940. Clear deceleration in the rate of growth happened after 1990 and the time from 2000 to 2010 was completely flat. It is quite certain there will be an absolute and noticeable decline from 2010 to 2020.
Here is the data for the above line graph: 1890, 2.2%; 1900, 3.0%; 1910, 4.65%; 1920, 6.3%; 1930, 9.8%; 1940, 12.5%; 1950, 20.7%; 1960, 29.8%; 1970, 38.5%; 1980, 49.3%; 1990, 57.7%; 2000; 61.4%; 2010, 61.3%. Note: there is no data for 1910, the 4.65% figure I used is just the mid-point between 1900 and 1920. Data was collected for 1910 but there were major errors in the definition of terms. Also the data for 2011, not used, is 60.2%. The data is for the Labor Force Participation Rate of the entire white married woman population; in recent decades that being all white married women 16 years and over. Sources for the data are Decennial Censuses, the Statistical Abstract of the United States, and the Women in the Labor Force databook put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
So, the connection between being married and being financially supported by ones husband has been radically cut. In 1890 being married dropped a white woman’s probability of working by 94% (from 36.6% to 2.3%; the age of the women in question being fixed at 35 to 44 years old). In 2010 being married only dropped a woman’s probability of working by 7% (from 78.2% to 72.8%). It is also worth noting that even single white women had a markedly reduced LFPR in 1890 (at 36.6%). The ethic of protecting women from the workforce was so strong in 1890 that even women without a designated man whose duty it was to support them (a husband) were usually supported by others. This practice of supporting single women was pretty much gone by 1940.
After the decline of financially supporting married women had already been going on for a long time then the third weakening of marriage came; that being the no-fault divorce revolution from 1965 to 1975 where divorce simply according to whim and personal preference by either spouse was instituted. Before “no-fault” divorce divorce was only granted based on “fault” or just cause. Common bases of “fault” were abandonment, adultery, and cruelty. The introduction of no-fault divorce in the United States led the divorce rate to skyrocket from 25% in 1965 to 50% in 1975.
The fourth weakening of marriage is what is taking place right now; the drive to eliminate the requirement that marriage actually be between people of opposite sex.
In Robert Page’s article he states “In almost all Western jurisdictions, marriage has been deeply wounded by a culture of divorce, the widespread practice of nonmarital sexual cohabitation, the normalization of nonmarital childbearing, and other practices.” This is true enough but these are late stage manifestations of the breakdown of marriage. What first weakened marriage was the abolishen of the coverture laws. What then weakened marriage even further was the relentless financial male abandonment of women within marriage. Only after the link between marriage and male support of women was radically weakened did we get things like widespread cohabitation and a social acceptance of having children out-of-wedlock.
In Robert Page’s article on marriage not once does he ever mention masculinity or femininity, not once does he mention male duties or the feminine role of women in the family, not once is mention of men financially supporting women ever brought up even indirectly. Page talks a lot about “sexual complementarity” and how there is a natural link between heterosexual union and childbearing. He also touches on some more deep and philosophical issues related to marriage that most people don’t think about and would have a hard time articulating. He also mentions the radical agendas of some of those pushing for “gay marriage.” Polyamourous unions and “minimal marriage” being the next items on the agenda. These are the strengths of his article. Still however I notice more what Page does not say than what he does say.
Marriage is masculinity, marriage is coverture, marriage is the man providing for the woman thereby enabling the woman’s feminine purpose and expression. Marriage is a male institution; the means by which men provide to women the environment a woman needs to function best as a woman. Of course marriage is heterosexual by nature; masculinity is necessarily based on the man’s interaction with and reaction to woman. Masculinity itself however is the foundation and organizing principle of marriage. The man takes control and the man then executes his plan and mission for the family. The man finds a woman to help him in his mission of family; this woman then becomes his wife. A family unit is then born and established. This family unit then creates and raises the next generation or in the absence of children provides for the expression of the woman’s feminine strengths in other ways that benefit the community. This is what marriage is all about.
In thinking about marriage we must remember what marriage used to be; we must not forget the diminishment of marriage that had already taken place before the modern feminist revolution of the 1970s even got started. Marriage is about masculinity to uphold and protect and empower femininity; marriage is about male power and male responsibility in service to women under God.
Sources for Statistical Information:
Employment Status and Work Experience
Table 5: Marital Status by Labor Force Status, Age, Race, and Sex: 1940 to 1970
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