History Of Marriage Law Essay

2629 words - 11 pages

History of Marriage Law

While abortion law is a lot more straightforward and the patterns are obvious, marriage law in the United States is a bit more complicated.

-English common law, and early American law, before the 1820's treated marriages like business mergers. The fathers paid dowries and often arranged marriages for their daughters. In the early 1800's fathers could contract their daughters to marriage as early as age 12 and there was no consent on her part. Boys had to be 14 before they could enter into a marriage contract.

-The age at which a woman could enter into marriage in the mid-nineteenth century varied widely from state to state, and therefore a timeline of laws is very difficult to accomplish.

-Throughout the 19th century and the early 20th century the age at which women could legally marry rose slowly to anywhere from 16-18 years of age by the mid 20th century.

-States differed widely on what rights women had in a marriage. Until 1873 women had absolutely no claim to custody of their children unless proof of abuse of the children was offered and corroborated.

-This is about the time that women began to get property rights as well in some states. The responsibilities that came with these rights, however, were huge and not all states were universal in their protection of a woman's property. If a woman did own anything, she had the legal obligation to use it to support completely any illegitimate children, all of her children from her marriage, her husband, her grandchildren, and her parents. So if any of these people asked her to support them she could not legally refuse.

-Coming into World War I women could not divorce a husband for adultery, even though he could divorce his wife for the same offense. Women could not be heirs unless they were the only legitimate children of a marriage, and if a woman wanted to sue a husband or fiancée for breach of a relationship contract she could only be successful if she was completely chaste beforehand.

-Many of these sorts of laws went throughout the first half of the 20th century. The best interest of the children standard did not come into effect in child custody hearings until well into the 20th century and the divorce laws for women were very, very strict.

-Liberalization of the marriage laws really started to come into effect in the late 1950's. Women slowly gained more rights in their marriages and to their children.

-In 1967 in the Loving v. Virginia case, the US Supreme Court struck down all laws prohibiting interracial marriages.

-In 1968 the Supreme Court decided the Griswold case, stating that the government had no right to interfere in reproductive issues within a marriage.

-Currently several cases are coming into the Supreme Court to challenge laws prohibiting same sex marriages and the United States President and conservative members of Congress want to create an amendment to the United States Constitution forever defining marriage as a...

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