The Stamp Act and Marriage

Check out J.L. Bell’s fascinating post at Boston 1775 about how colonists in Massachusetts married earlier than originally intended in order to avoid paying for a ten shilling stamp on their marriage certificates.  Another consequence of the Stamp Act.

Here is a taste:

…That meant that, once the law went into effect on 1 Nov 1765, every couple in Massachusetts who wanted to be legally married was supposed to pay an extra ten shillings.

By autumn, however, people were opposed to paying the Stamp Tax not just to save money but also to avoid cooperating with what they saw as an unconstitutional imposition on the province’s self-government.

The Boston Gazette of 14 Oct 1765 reported that one result was couples hurrying to marry before the law took effect the next month:

We hear that Numbers of young Persons in the Country are joining in Wedlock, earlier than they intended, supposing that after the 1st of next Month, it would be difficult to have the Ceremony performed without paying dearly for stamping:—

No less than 22 Couple were published on Sunday last Week atMarblehead, intending Marriage on the same Account.

Robert George: The Princeton Professor and Intellectual Advising the GOP Presidential Candidates

Melinda Henneberger has written an excellent feature for Bloomberg Politics on Robert George, one of the great Christian and conservative intellectuals in the United States today.  What I especially appreciate about this article is its fairness. 

George has provided advice on moral issues to Ted Cruz (his former student), Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and others.  Unfortunately, apart from abortion and gay marriage, I don’t hear much of George’s nuanced views when I listen to these candidates.  George is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and one of our foremost advocates for the application of natural law to moral and political issues.  He also hangs out with Cornell West, sees no difference between his views and the views of Pope Francis, thinks poverty is one of the most pressing moral issues of our day, and wishes he could go back to voting as a Democrat.

(He also went to Swarthmore with Way of Improvement Leads Home reader and friend Fred Jordan.  I think they may have even been roommates).

Intrigued?  Then check out Henneberger’s piece.  Here is a small taste:
Among the candidates, his closest relationship may be with Cruz, who was one of his students at Princeton. But starting early next month, George is planning to do a series of hour-long interviews with presidential candidates on moral and constitutional questions on the Catholic cable channel EWTN, which is one reason why he won’t be endorsing any candidate. “My object is to drill down, and find out how their minds work,” even when he’s helped some of those minds think through various issues.
Planned Parenthood, at the center of America’s politics since the release of videos purporting to show employees negotiating over fetal organs, is one matter candidates call him about. “I’ve argued that you cannot try to fund good and honorable activities or services for Planned Parenthood while blocking the bad stuff it does, like abortions, because of the fungibility of money, and that what we need is a complete de-funding of Planned Parenthood, together with mechanisms for providing desirable services to women. So that might be the kind of issue I’d talk to Rick Santorum or anyone else about.”
He doesn’t supply them with rhetorical ammunition, he says, or the exact answer. “What I try to help these guys think through is: What’s the truth of the matter? What should our response be?”
And on Planned Parenthood or any other issue, George doesn’t always say what conservatives want to hear. For example, he feels the makers of the Planned Parenthood sting videos were wrong in one respect: “I defend the videos, and I think the videos tell us the truth about Planned Parenthood, but it’s wrong to lie about who you are to gain access to get to people.”

Mayor Nutter vs. Archbishop Chaput on the Steps of Independence Hall

Pope Francis obviously stole the show Saturday at Independence Hall, but as Alexi Sargeant points out at First Things, there was a war words taking place prior to the Pontiff’s speech.  

During their introductory speeches, both Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput tried to appropriate the Pope for their own understanding of Catholicism and politics.

Here is a taste of Sargeant’s post:

Mayor Nutter briefly mentioned the Pope’s views on immigration in his opening remarks before focusing, primarily, on LGBT-issues. He cited Francis’s widely misunderstood “who am I to judge?” soundbite several times to paint a picture of a Pontiff in line with American progressive politics. Nutter came close to acknowledging the weakness of his reading of Francis when he said that, when Francis praises the good of the family, “he sometimes doesn’t define its composition.”

Sometimes, perhaps—though not, notably, the following day in his homily to conclude the World Meeting of Families, where the Pope referred to marriage as “the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God.” It makes sense that Mayor Nutter would search Francis’s gaps and lacunae for support for gay marriage. Nutter identifies as Catholic but disagrees with Church teaching on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. In fact, he had promised to press the Pope to change the Church’s stance on gay marriage. Though he apparently failed to make the Pope evolve on marriage issues, Nutter did his best to present the Pope as a champion to LGB Philadelphians.

Archbishop Charles Chaput’s  introductory remarks sounded, after Mayor Nutter, almost like a rebuttal. There was an appropriately Philadelphian spirit of brotherly love to what he said, but it was nonetheless clear that the Church Chaput praised was not the sexually-progressive Church of Mayor Nutter’s imagination. “We live at an odd time in history,” said the Archbishop. “When the Church defends marriage and the family, the unborn child and the purpose of human sexuality, she’s attacked as too harsh. When she defends immigrant workers and families that are broken up by deportation, she’s attacked as too soft. And yet she is neither of those things.” The Church, he went on the say, is the mother and teacher of humanity. Chaput then welcomed Pope Francis as the person most powerfully able to speak the truth of the Church’s mission.

For his part, Francis spoke about immigration and religious liberty. He called on America to remember its founding, and especially the important role religious liberty played for the Quakers who founded Philadelphia. Speaking in Spanish throughout, he made sure to specifically address the large percentage of Hispanics and Latinos in the audience, some of them recent immigrants. He urged them to remember their traditions and heritage, to be proud of their vibrant faith and familial loyalty.

Read the entire post here.

History Majors Usually Don’t Marry History Majors

If I am reading this Washington Post article correctly, only 7% of history majors marry another history major.  This pales in comparison to theology and ministry majors.  21% of majors in these fields marry one of their fellow-majors. 

I am not sure what this all means or why it is so important, but it is interesting.  Check out the chart here to see where your major falls on the marriage scale.  In the meantime, here is a taste of the article:

Dan Kopf of the blog Priceonomics analyzed U.S. Census data and found that the percentage of Americans who marry someone within their own major is actually fairly high. 
About half of Americans are married, according to the 2012 American Community Survey (part of the Census). And about 28 percent of married couples over the age of 22 both graduated from college. (The survey didn’t recognize same-sex marriages for the 2012 data, but it will for 2013 onwards, says Kopf.)
Among the 50 most common college majors, more than 10 percent of married partners that both had college degrees had the same major, according to Kopf’s analysis of the data.
As you might guess, the propensity to wed varies by major. The undergrad major in which it is most common is theology and religious vocations, where 21 percent of couples had the same major. Next is general science, followed by pharmacy, music and computer science.

The Roots of "Christian Mingle"

Neil Clark Warren, founder of eHarmony, with his wife Marylyn

I know several people who have used matchmaking services like Christian Mingle to find companionship and even spouses.  And now, thanks to Paul Putz, I know that Christian matchmaking services have a long history.  Here is a taste of his short essay on the subject at Religion & Politics:

THE HISTORY OF MATCHMAKING as a mass-marketed commercial enterprise stretches at least as far back as the late nineteenth century. The earliest matchmaking bureaus advertised their services in newspaper personals sections. They developed a reputation for fraud because they often exaggerated and embellished the number of single, wealthy clients on their rolls. As a result, few Americans held commercialized matchmaking bureaus in high esteem. And most Americans simply did not need additional matchmaking help—friends and family played the part just fine…

Evangelicals—a small core of them at least—were early adopters of the online dating trend, and Clark Sloan was one of the pioneers. Out of a job in the early 1990s, Sloan drew entrepreneurial inspiration from an ink-and-paper Christian singles periodical published by his father. “Classified ads back then didn’t seem to work very well,” Sloan recalled. “I thought, ‘why not take this into the computer stage?’” The ensuing company, Christian Computer Match, utilized a computer program created by Sloan to match people based on answers to a 50-question application. Sloan advertised his new service in the handful of Christian singles newspapers still in circulation. By 1994, he claimed to have 8,000 members in his database, which, as far as he knew, was the only Christian-oriented computer-matching program on the market. His program, already technologically advanced for its time, was a natural fit for the transition to the Internet. He made the move online in 1995 when he started the Single Christian Network at, which launched around the same time as the first widely used, mainstream personals site, Sloan’s website caught the eye of Sam Moorcroft, who cited as one of the websites that inspired him to launch his own Christian matchmaking site,, in 1999 ( is now a site affiliated with

What David Barton Really Said About Women and Voting

Everyone seems to be ripping on David Barton today.  They are claiming that he said that women’s suffrage is somehow bad for the country.  Here are some of the headlines:

“David Barton: Allowing women to vote “hurts the entire culture and society.”

“Barton: Denying Women’s Suffrage Protects the Family”

“David Barton: Women Weren’t Allowed to Vote in Order to Preserve the Family.”

Most people who read this blog know that I have been very critical of Barton.  In fact, I could probably write something critical about David Barton every day on this blog and see my readership double.

Here is the clip that is circulating on left-wing websites:

I just listened to the entire episode of the May 1, 2014 “Wallbuilders Live.” This is the episode in which Barton apparently said that women’s suffrage was a bad thing.  There is a lot that is familiar in this episode.  As usual, Barton and his co-host Rick Green take their shots at the way history is taught in “government schools” (a slap in the face to all history teachers in public schools who are doing a wonderful job). They also continue to use the story of the American past to promote their political agenda in the present.  I have warned against this approach to history in both Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? and Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.

Barton, of course, represents the Christian Right, but as this most recent incident shows, the Left is not immune from this kind of cherry picking and manipulation of evidence to promote their own political agenda.

Perhaps all of those historians (yes, some legitimate historians have jumped on the bandwagon) and pundits should listen to the entire Wallbuilders Live episode before hitting social media to skewer Barton for saying that women’s suffrage was a bad thing.  If you listen to the entire context of this discussion of women’s suffrage, you will notice several things:

1.  Nowhere in this episode does Barton say the 19th amendment was a bad thing or that women voting is a bad thing.  Listen for yourself.  Some might say he is implying this.  If someone wants to make this argument, it is a stretch.

2.  The clip I posted above has been edited.  The part of the discussion in which Barton and Green seem to suggest that women’s suffrage is a positive development in American life has been cut out.

3.  Barton’s culture war rhetoric often gets in the way of his historical assertions, but he is right about the way New Englanders understood the family.  It was patriarchal in nature and, as Edmund Morgan has argued, it was at the heart of New England Puritan life.  Barton believes that this kind of patriarchy should characterize families today.  But I am not sure his belief on this front is as newsworthy as the Right Wing watchdog websites make it out to be.  Millions of evangelicals embrace what is often called a “complementarian” position on marriage and support the right of women to vote.  In fact, if I remember my women’s history correctly, many 19th-century women’s suffragists held what today might be described as a “complementarian” position on marriage.  (Historians of American women–please correct me if I am wrong here).  While some might find this a reprehensible position, and I am not endorsing it here, the fact that Barton is calling for a kind of soft-complementarianism (he distinguishes it from the “tyranny” of the 17th-century Puritan father) is not really news.

4.  Barton is correct when he suggests that divorce was difficult in early America, although I do not know if one had to appeal to the legislature in order to get one.  (Can someone help me with this one?). On more contemporary matters, he is also correct that no-fault divorce has led to a rise in American divorces and divided families.  I think many conservatives and liberals think this is a problem in our culture.  Moreover, Barton’s concern about the traditional family unit is not some kind of anti-intellectual rant.  Christopher Lasch, writing from a neo-Marxist perspective, defended the traditional family (although not necessary a patriarchal family) against that rise of individualism and consumer capitalism in 1977 with the publication of Haven in the Heartless World; The Family Besieged.  

4.  Barton is correct to suggest that voting in early America was often directly related to the ownership of property.  This, as he mentions several times, is why a few women could vote in some colonies and in early national New Jersey.  Barton’s never said that this was a good thing or a bad thing.

5. Barton says that some property-owning women could vote in 17th-century New England.  This is true, but these were exceptions to the rule and very rare.

6.  The idea that single property-owning women somehow represented a “family unit,” as Barton suggests, is overstated.  If some of the single property-owning women at Salem were considered a true Puritan “family” they probably would not have been accused of witchcraft.  At least this is what I learned in graduate school from reading Carol Karlsen.

7.  The original question asked of Barton (by a caller named Britton) was whether or not the founding fathers were “sexist” for not letting women vote.  While “sexist” is not an eighteenth-century term, the members of nearly all early state legislatures believed that women should not have the right to vote. Were there some exceptions?  Yes.  But to say that the founders and early framers of state constitutions made deliberate attempts to grant suffrage to women is not accurate.

In the end, Barton is trying to defend the Founders against charges that they were sexist.  (And he is once again very wrong on this front).  He is not trying to say that the 19th amendment was a bad thing. Of course we never heard the question that was asked because the edited clip making its way around the Internet is taken out of context.

Barton’s words have been twisted here. Does Barton believe that the 19th amendment was a bad thing? I have no idea.  Did he make this claim in the May 1, 2014 episode of Wallbuilders Live?  I didn’t hear it.

Indeed, those on the Left can also play fast and lose with the record.

I am guessing I am going to get hit hard from some of you.  Please fire away…  The comment section is open.

Are You Doing Research on John and Abigail Adams?

J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 just brought my attention to a conference called “Abigail and John: 250 Years Together”  The conference will take place on October 25 to mark the 250th wedding anniversary of this revolutionary-era couple.  Here is the call for papers:

The conference organizers have issued a invitation to scholars to propose individual papers or complete panels. Those can cover “all aspects of the life and union of these two extraordinary individuals and their world,” though organizers ask for proposals to be keyed to one of these general topics:

  • Adams Family Lives
  • Courtship and Commitments in Colonial Massachusetts
  • Home and Hearth in Colonial Massachusetts

If you wish to propose a paper or session, e-mail a 300-500-word abstract to Michelle Marchetti Coughlin by 16 May. Presenters will be notified in June. Papers will have to be completed in time to be circulated to attendees before the conference, which will take place at or near the Abigail Adams Birthplace in Weymouth.

How Could Washington Be a Married Man (And Never Tell A Lie)?

  • Recording Title

    How could Washington be a married man (and never tell a lie), 1916
  • Composer

  • Conductor

  • Lyricist

  • Tenor vocal

  • Genre(s)

    Humorous songs
  • Category

  • Description

    Male vocal solo, with orchestra
  • Language

  • Label Name/Number

    Victor 18192
  • Matrix Number/Take Number

  • Recording Date

  • Place of Recording

    Camden, New Jersey
  • Size

  • Duration

HT: Keith Beutler via Facebook

The Recent DOMA Decision and Polygamy

Polygamists in Utah are apparently rejoicing about the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act.  Here is a taste of an article form Salt Lake City Tribune:

Polygamists and their supporters celebrated Wednesday, saying they see implications for their cause in the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act.
Just hours after the court ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional, Joe Darger said he and his family were pleased. Darger, who with his three wives detailed their life in the book “Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage,” said the ruling should help remedy polygamists’ treatment as “second-class citizens.”

Wilcox: If You Want a Prenup, Don’t Get Married

Interesting New York Times post by University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox:

If you’re thinking about a prenup, or — worse yet — your intended is pushing a prenup on you, you might as well go ahead and just cancel the wedding. There’s an easier way to keep your assets and income separate: it’s called cohabitation. In most states, cohabiting partners are free to walk away from their relationship with their income and assets intact, all without the hassle and expense of a divorce. 

But if you’re truly in love, and you wish to share your life, your body, your children and your checkbook with your beloved “till death do you part,” marriage is generally the ticket. Marriage is about establishing a common life together, about putting someone else ahead of yourself, and sharing the things that mean the most to you, including your money. And, paradoxically, if you take this other-centered approach to marriage, you’re not only less likely to divorce, but also to enjoy a happier relationship. 

My research suggests that couples who embrace a generous orientation toward their marriage, as well as those who take a dim view of divorce, are significantly more likely to be happy in their marriages. A National Center for Family and Marriage Research study finds that couples who share joint bank accounts are less likely to get divorced. In fact, married couples who do not pool their income are 145 percent more likely to end up in divorce court, compared to couples who share a bank account.

So, the kind of partners who wish to hold something back from their spouse in a marriage — emotionally, practically and financially — and to look out for No. 1 instead are more likely to end up unhappy and divorced. If that is your aim in marrying, go ahead and get a prenup….

Beth Lewis Pardoe Continues "Hope 2012: A Blog Relay"

Ed Blum passed the baton to me and like the U.S. 4 X100 meter women’s relay team I did not drop it.  I handed it off to  Beth Lewis Pardoe, the very thoughtful blogger at Mystories and the University of Venus.  Here is a taste of her Hope 2012 blog relay entry. 

My blogging idol, John Fea, threw down the gauntlet and demanded a statement on hope.  When I stood under a palm tree and watched two strangers exchange wedding vows, I knew what I needed to write.

The Scandinavian-American groom arrived in an Aston-Martin as opposed to dismounting from a white stallion.  His pasty female relations processed in saris revealing unfortunate shoulder tattoos before the Indian-American bride arrived in a palanquin to bollywood-bhangra-ballads.

As I stood chatting with Cuban-American National Humanities Medalist Teofilo Ruiz, the Hindu priest serenaded the couple with Kabhi Alveda Naa Kehna (never say goodbye).  They apparently share my love of Shah Rukh Khan romantic extravaganzas. So much so, that the fair-haired groom closed his vows with title of the Khan-Kajol classic, “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” (something’s happening).

Read the rest here.  Thanks, Beth!

What Gingrich Should Have Said

Frank Beckwith offers Newt a better answer to the “open marriage” question posed to him by John King at the CNN debate in South Carolina.

The Speaker is, of course, correct that “every person in here knows personal pain.” No one doubts that. But, in this case, the personal pain suffered by his ex-wife was inflicted by Gingrich. For this reason, the appropriate response for the Speaker should have been something like this, “Every person in here knows personal pain, just like the pain suffered by my ex-wife. And, I am ashamed to admit that I am the one who caused this pain. So, I don’t at all disparage her for what she has said about me. That’s the man I was: self-absorbed, uncaring, thinking myself as someone above the moral law. My conversion to Catholicism, and the absolution I received for my sins, was the first step on my way to becoming the man I ought to be.”

But what we heard from Gingrich was a complaint about his pain, as if he were the victim! But not in relation to his personal virtue and his formation as a Christian, as if King’s question was a stumbling block to his internal sanctification. Rather, Gingrich was upset that the question about his ex-wife was asked in a debate, in his words, “two days before the primary [as] a significant question for a presidential campaign.” This is what he judged “as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.” Either the Speaker lacks imagination or he is so self-absorbed that he instinctively converts his ex-wife’s pain into a question about his personal ambition to become President of the United States. Now, that’s despicable.

What is Happening to the Institution of Marriage?

Last month the Brookings Institute released a report on the state of marriage in American society.  It was co-authored by Brad Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, and Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at the Johns Hopkins.  Wilcox is a conservative.  Cherlin is a liberal. 

Wilcox and Cherlin argue that the institution of marriage is in trouble, especially among the lower classes.  Here is a taste of their diagnosis:

In the affluent neighborhoods where many college-educated Americans live, marriage is alive and well and stable families are the rule. Young Americans with college degrees, once thought to be a cultural vanguard, are creating a neotraditional style of family life: although they may cohabit with their partners, nearly all of them marry before having their first child. Furthermore, while most wives work outside the home, the divorce rate in this group has declined to levels not seen since the early 1970s. In contrast, marriage and family stability have been in decline in the kinds of neighborhoods that we used to call working-class—home to large numbers of young adults who have completed high school but not college. More and more of them are having children in brittle cohabiting unions. Among those who marry, the risk of divorce remains high. Indeed, the families formed recently in working-class communities have begun to look as much like the families of the poor as of the prosperous. The nation’s retreat from marriage, which started in low-income communities in the 1960s and 1970s, has now moved into Middle America. Take divorce. Today, moderately-educated Americans are more than twice as likely to divorce as college-educated Americans during the first ten years of marriage, and the divorce divide between these two groups has been growing since the 1970s. Similar trends are apparent in nonmarital childbearing, a category that includes both single and cohabiting women. By the late 2000s, moderatelyeducated American women were more than seven times as likely to bear a child outside of marriage as compared with their college-educated peers. Indeed the percentage of nonmarital births among the moderately educated (44 percent) was closer to the rate among mothers without high school degrees (54 percent) than to college-educated mothers (6 percent).

In response to these problems, the authors offer six specific policy ideas.  You can read about them in detail in the brief, but I have summarized them below.

1.  Increase training for middle-skill jobs.  The economic benefits could lead to more stable unions.

2.  Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless workers and reduce the marriage penalty.  The EITC “imposes a substantial marriage penalty because the higher joint earnings of a married couple reduce the benefit below what they would have each received if they had remained single.”

3.  Start a social marketing campaign that encourages young people to “follow a success sequence characterized by finishing high school, getting a job, getting married, and then having children.”

4.  Expand the child tax credit to $3000 per child.

5.  Invest in preschool children’s development.

6.  Reform divorce law.  No-fault divorce has reduced “the public’s confidence in marriage and willingness to invest in their spouse, insofar as no-fault divorce weakened the marital contract by allowing a unilateral divorce for any reason whatsoever.”

Questions All Royal Wedding Fans are Dying to Have Answered

Actually, I am not sure that the people who will wake in a few hours to watch the royal wedding really care about the religious dimensions of the ceremony.  But for those who do, Patheos has provided answers to eight common questions.  I list the questions below, but you will need to go to the Patheos site for the answers.

1.  What happens in the Anglican marriage rite?

2.  Who will perform the ceremony?

3.  Where will the ceremony be held?

4.  What is the connection between the throne and the Church of England?

5.  Why can’t Catholics become monarchs?

6.  What does Kate’s confirmation mean?  Did she convert?

7.  What is the monarch’s role as head of the church?  Does he or she have the power to make theological rulings.

8.  Is the Church of England the official church of the country?  What does that mean?  How is the church-state relationship different than the U.S.?

Be Countercultural: Get Married

According to this study by the Pew Research Center, the institution of marriage is in trouble.  The study concludes that:

Marriage remains the norm among the college educated, but is declining among those on the “lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.”

In 1960, 68% of all “twenty-somethings” were married.  In 2008, just 26% of all “twenty-somethings” were married.

The “young” are more inclined to cohabitate without marriage and view same-sex and interracial marriages favorably.

“Family” remains important to most Americans, even though the definition of “family” is changing.

39% of Americans believe that marriage is “becoming obsolete.”

Americans are more “upbeat” about the future of marriage than they are about the future of the country’s educational system, economic system, and morality.

70% say that single women having children is bad for society and 61% say that a child needs a mother and a father “to grow up happily.”

In 1969, 68% of Americans believed premarital sex was wrong.  In 2009, 60% of Americans believe premarital sex is wrong.

94% of Americans believe that when compared to their parents their relationship with their spouse is either closer or the same.

86% of Americans believe that a single parent and a child constitute a family.  80% say that an unmarried couple living together with a child is a family.  63% say that a gay or lesbian couple living together with a child is a family.  The majority believe that a couple living together without a child is not a family.

Anyone want to interpret these statistics for me?

The American Way of Divorce

I am with Albert Mohler on this.  Divorce has indeed redefined the meaning of marriage in America.  Mohler’s essay shows that liberals, feminists, AND conservatives (Reagan) are to blame. Here is a taste of Mohler’s thoughts:

There are few national tragedies that can match the devastating effect of the Divorce Revolution. Four decades after California launched the revolution, the impact of divorce and the break-up of marriages and families is now well documented, coast to coast.

The availability of divorce without cause, so-called “no-fault” divorce, rendered every marriage less than it was before. Once impermanence became a mark of marriage in the law and in the culture, couples were required to muster a special level of marital commitment to remain married. Right before the nation’s eyes, divorce redefined marriage.

The revolution was, as is so often the case, led by members of the cultural, academic, legal, and political elites. Liberal intellectuals made the case for divorce as liberation, subverting marriage as a repressive institution. The moral revolutionaries attacked marriage as sexually limiting and oppressive. Feminists demanded divorce as a means of escaping marriage and achieving a right of exit for wives. There were even liberal religious leaders willing to offer a benediction over the dismantlement of marriage.

But as University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox recounts, it was none other than Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, who signed the nation’s first no-fault divorce bill. Reagan, who had recently experienced a bitter divorce from actress Jane Wyman, saw the legislation as a way to humanize divorce. Reagan later saw his role as, in Wilcox’s words, “one of the biggest mistakes of his political life.” Nevertheless, the damage was done — with effects far beyond California. As Wilcox explains, the availability of no-fault divorce “gutted marriage of its legal power to bind husband to wife, allowing one spouse to dissolve marriage for any reason — or for no reason at all.” 

Some Thoughts About Divorce and America

I am in the mood this morning to riff on the institution of marriage. So here goes:

Al and Tipper have divorced after 40 years of marriage and the American punditry have been having a field day with the story. I obviously do not know Al and Tipper and am in no position to comment on their marriage. But my mind started spinning this morning when I read Deirdre Bair’s New York Times op-ed, “The 40-Year Itch.” Bair argues that a divorce can actually be a good thing. It can provide people with more freedom, more opportunity, and new experiences. Here a few snippets from her piece:

“People change and forget to tell each other,” Lillian Hellman said. Still, many couples seem to have an “aha!” moment when they realize that it’s time to split up. No matter how comfortably situated they are, how lovely their home and successful their children, they divorce because they cannot go on living in the same old rut with the same old person.

Men and women I interviewed insisted they did not divorce foolishly or impulsively. Most of them mentioned “freedom.” Another word I heard a lot was “control”; people wanted it for themselves for the rest of their lives. Women had grown tired of taking care of house, husband and grown children; men were tired of working to support wives who they felt did not appreciate them and children who did not respect them. Women and men alike wanted time to find out who they were.

One spouse might have wanted to keep working while the other wanted to retire. Often, there was an emotional void; one would say that the other “doesn’t see me, doesn’t know who I am,” while the other hadn’t a clue: “I thought everything was just fine; we never argued, we don’t fight.” One grew disenchanted with the wrinkled person across the dinner table and wanted someone new and exciting.

Many stories ended with some rendition of, “It’s my time and if I don’t take it now, I never will.”

One cannot go on living in the “same old rut.” People want their “freedom.” Men and women want to find out “who they were.” They want something “new and exciting.” Of course they do. Don’t we all?

As I read these blurbs from Blair’s book, I became more convinced that divorce is really an American thing to do. (And I am assuming here a divorce that does NOT stem from abuse or violence or perhaps even serial infidelity). Divorce celebrates the wants and desires of the individual and the therapeutic culture that defines our society. If you are bored in your marriage–then it only makes sense to get out. If you are “disenchanted with the wrinkled person across the table,” then go find something “new and exciting.”

I say that divorce is the “American” thing to do because America is, of course, a country that celebrates personal self-fulfillment, starting anew, freedom of choice, and therapeutic consumption. Marriage is all about what YOU get out of it, and if you are not getting what YOU need from it, then it is time to bail out. To honor a marriage commitment that might, at times, place limits on one’s life or force one to sacrifice his or her own desires for the good of this sacred compact, undermines the self-interested philosophy that passes today for “common sense.”

So it seems to me, all you children of the 1960s or New Left wannabees, if you want to be countercultural, then stay in your marriages.