Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Heterosexual Revolution :: NYT
Heterosexuals were the upstarts who turned marriage into a voluntary love relationship rather than a mandatory economic and political institution. Heterosexuals were the ones who made procreation voluntary, so that some couples could choose childlessness, and who adopted assisted reproduction so that even couples who could not conceive could become parents. And heterosexuals subverted the long-standing rule that every marriage had to have a husband who played one role in the family and a wife who played a completely different one.
. . .
traditional marriage imposed a strict division of labor by gender and mandated unequal power relations between men and women. "Husband and wife are one," said the law in both England and America, from early medieval days until the late 19th century, "and that one is the husband."

This law of "coverture" was supposed to reflect the command of God and the essential nature of humans. It stipulated that a wife could not enter into legal contracts or own property on her own. In 1863, a New York court warned that giving wives independent property rights would "sow the seeds of perpetual discord," potentially dooming marriage.

Even after coverture had lost its legal force, courts, legislators and the public still cleaved to the belief that marriage required husbands and wives to play totally different domestic roles. In 1958, the New York Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to the traditional legal view that wives (unlike husbands) couldn't sue for loss of the personal services, including housekeeping and the sexual attentions, of their spouses. The judges reasoned that only wives were expected to provide such personal services anyway.

As late as the 1970's, many American states retained "head and master" laws, giving the husband final say over where the family lived and other household decisions. According to the legal definition of marriage, the man was required to support the family, while the woman was obligated to keep house, nurture children, and provide sex. Not until the 1980's did most states criminalize marital rape. Prevailing opinion held that when a bride said, "I do," she was legally committed to say, "I will" for the rest of her married life.
. . .
Stephanie Coontz, the director of public education for the
Council on Contemporary Families, is the author of "Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage."
Will the Arab and Muslim world prove to be as adaptable?

From Booklist's review of Marriage, a History: "Coontz explores how marriage has evolved, from the introduction of romantic love through modern-day attempts to balance changing sex roles. As society separated marriage from economics, it also made marriage more fragile and subject to the vagaries of emotions. Coontz notes that all of the permutations of marriage that we now consider new and radical have been seen before and that generations throughout history."

(Emphasis added.) Did society separate 'marriage from economics'? Society has very little to do with change except in the degree to which it resists it or accomodates it. It seems to me that technology changed (e.g., running water, electricity, the washing machine) and then marriage changed.

If couples come to agree with Coontz that marriage has become more fragile, and if they view this as a bad thing, they will seek ways to make it less fragile. What these ways will be I can't predict, but humans are innovative when there is an incentive.

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