Written by Jessica Oakley ’15
This week in Election 2012! we heard from Catherine Denial, associate professor of history. She specializes in the history of marriage. She came to talk with us about the history of marriage in the U.S. and how it affects the issues today.
We started from the very beginning of American history, with a letter from Abigail Adams to her husband, John Adams, stressing the importance of women in the Constitution and ended with today’s societies and the remnants of this culture.
Specifically what constitutes marriage? We hear constantly in the news that there is war going on against marriage or the sanctity of marriage is in trouble. The news acts as if this is the first time in American history when people believe these things.
But in fact, as Professor Denial pointed out, it is most definitely not. When our country was first started, the sanctity of marriage was in trouble if women had the right to vote. If they did, their positions in society and in a marriage would change.
Women’s duty was to take care of the home, procreate, and obey their husbands. The next blow against the sanctity of marriage was if African-Americans could get married. Because slaves were considered property, they could not legally be married. This meant that families could be separated on a master’s whim.
When slavery ended, many plantation owners stated that if their former slaves could be married that their (own) marriage vows would be lessened. This was also stated (as opposition) for interracial couples to be married and an American citizen marrying a foreigner. Citizens opposed to all of these reforms all stated that it was harming THEIR MARRIAGE and the SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE.
However, America did not fall. Family was still intact, and in no instance did people lose rights if others received them.
And we realize that this battle is still going on today. It is the same ignorance as 200 years ago — just directed towards different people.