Wednesday, June 14, 2006

History of the changing sanctity of marriage

George Mason University's History News Network: "Activist Judges" or "Re-activist" Judges?

... our Founding Fathers were not yet ready to tamper with the time-honored marital tradition of giving the husband total control over the person and goods of his wife. When Abigail Adams suggested that her husband, the future President John Adams, write protections for women in the Constitution, he replied that the very thought made him laugh. Husband and wife "are accounted one person," said prevailing opinion, "and he hath power over her person as well as estate." In 1861, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled: "The husband is entitled not only to all the personal property which the wife owns at the time of her marriage, but to all that she acquires by her skill or labor" during the marriage. A father's claim to custody of children, even infants, was "entirely axiomatic."

In the mid-nineteenth century, "activist" judges responded to demands of the emerging women's movement and its male supporters by expanding the legal and economic rights of wives. To the dismay of many defenders of traditional marriage, they even began to rule against the traditional right of men to "physically correct" their wives or imprison them at home.

So those who want to preserve the sanctity of marriage as if it is something that has been unchanged for eons, are defending a myth.

While Abigail Adams couldn't convince her husband to include protections for women in the constitution, neither her husband nor the other drafters of the constitution enshrined their prejudice in the constitution. If lawmakers want to protect rights of a key segment of the US population, let them revive the Equal Rights Amendment.

Our constitution should always represent the best of who we are and should never reflect our fears and our prejudices and our inequities.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 3:01 PM   0 comments links to this post


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