Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/236

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
224
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

OUR MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE LAWS.
By GORDON A. STEWART.

THE worst of our social evils, personal wrongs, and political sins arise from the ununiform operation of our marriage and divorce laws. The loose manner in which a contract of marriage may he entered into and the reckless facility with which a marriage contract may be dissolved are a disgrace to our high civilization and professed Christianity. However learned commentators and jurists may differ as to the correct definition of marriage, it is not only a partially executed agreement to marry, but is a contract continuous in its obligations governing the status of the parties, until it is dissolved by the death of one of the parties, or by one of them obtaining a divorce for some wrongful or invalidating act committed by the other.

In nearly all of the States marriage is recognized as a civil contract only, and has no ecclesiastical obligation so far as society and the State are concerned. The contracting parties are subjects of the law. The person performing the ceremony by which the contract is publicly acknowledged by the parties, whether he be magistrate, parson, or layman, becomes a civil officer by authority of the law for that occasion. Generally, however, the marriage contract is solemnized by a clergyman, agreeably to the rules and regulations of the religious denomination to which he belongs, and for which one or the other of the parties has a religious attachment or preference; or, because a religious solemnization in church gives a better opportunity to gratify the desire for social rivalry and display. But perhaps most persons, especially when young and looking forward to a long future of connubial happiness, consider the act of marriage more as a religious rite than a civil contract, and hence the forms and ceremonies of the Church accord more agreeably with the sentiment of love and affection than the business-like and informal words of the magistrate, who, in response to their acknowledgment of intention to marry, simply pronounces them man and wife. This sentiment, no doubt, is largely the result of a lingering belief in marriage as a divine institution and a sacrament of the Church, as taught when the ecclesiastical court had exclusive jurisdiction of marriage and divorce. It is perhaps not until later, not until they have become dissatisfied with the conditions of the solemn obligation they had agreed to faithfully perform through life, that they discover it is simply a civil contract that binds them, and from which the law has generously provided unlimited means of escape.

Lawful marriage is the basis of the family relation, and the family relation is the fundamental principle of association upon which the superstructure of society and the State is built. And yet there is no