MARRIAGE LAW REFORM
As the coming session will in all probability bring the present Parliament to a close, it is highly probable that great efforts will be made to overtake such arrears of work as have hitherto remained imperfect or been altogether unattempted. Should our anticipations prove to be correct, we may expect to witness a fair amount of really useful legislation.
Setting aside the strictly political and economic questions which are certain to be discussed, we venture on a few remarks upon the presiding claims of Marriage Law Reform - a topic which will be raised upon SIR THOMAS CHAMBERS' Bill to legalise marriage with a deceased wire's sister. This measure has already passed the Commons by repeated and significant majorities, but has hitherto suffered defeat in the House of Lords, where, as our readers need scarcely be reminded, the legislation of 1835 took origin.
The DUKE OF BEAUFORT of that day had contracted one of these marriages and LORD LYNDHURST, by an Act which confirmed this nobleman's alliance and legalised the issue of his marriage, went the length of declaring all marriages with a deceased wife's sister on and after September 1st, 1835, null and void. These, marriages which were heretofore regarded as valid in this country, and are to this hour sanctioned in every other nation throughout Christendom, have come to be regarded as incestuous and immoral.
Now, without entering at length upon the religious aspect of this controversy, we are bound to avow that by no plain common-sense interpretation can the oft-quoted passage in Leviticus (xxiii. 18) be rendered applicable to conditions after the decease of the first wife.
The contracting parties to marriage with a deceased wife's sister are to be found in every condition of life; the poor looking upon such alliances as natural and suitable, while persons in a higher position, regard them as strictly consonant with the teaching of God's Word.
Seeing, then, that legislative enactment has been unable to prevent the multiplication of such marriages, and that no Divine prohibition can be urged, we contend, in the interest of social concord and domestic purity, for the repeal of LORD LYNDHURST's obnoxious measure. The Church of Rome has always granted dispensations to Catholics contemplating marriage of this order, surely the simple fact that in Great Britain alone, marriage with a deceased wife's sister is pronounced illegal, should energise the efforts of all who are interested in the repeal of this oppressive Act.
As one glances at the effects produced by this ill-starred measure, it seems scarcely possible to believe that such an Act should have been passed within the last forty years by a Parliament which just before this event had submitted to the process of reform, and which has since placed on the statute book so many beneficial enactments.
The amendment of the marriage law is no party question, the names of Whigs and Tories, Constitutionalists and Radicals, are strangely mingled in the division lists on this question. The evils and heart burning engendered by LORD LYNDHURST's Act are rather increased than diminished as time rolls along. Officers of the Army and Navy, clergymen of the established church, and ministers of other religious communions, scions of the aristocracy, and men of high standing in the several walks of professional, mercantile, and social life, are more or less affected by the existence of this obnoxious and unsound law.
Nor is the matter, however seriously debated, without its ludicrous aspect. One learned opponent rises in his place on the floor of St. Stephen's to complain that SIR THOMAS CHAMBERS' Bill contemplates the abolition of sisters-in-law; while another, who is favourable to the measure, justifies his support of its provisions by remarking that it enables a man to marry again without submitting to the incovenience of a second mother-in-law.
Then, again, how unseemly is the change wrought by comparison of dates. A widower who, on the 31st August, 1835, married his deceased wife's sister is held to be living in lawful wedlock, while his confrere, who, from circumstances which he could not control, was not married until the 1st of September in the same year, is, through being twelve hours too late, pronounced guilty of having contracted an alliance which is illegal, and consequently void.
The status, solemnity, and moral tone of marriage are degraded by this wanton and injustifiable interference of the legislature in a matter that must, after all, be largely governed by the affection and discretion of the contracting parties.
In other cases, co-habitation can be condoned by marriage; in this instance, marriage is placed on a level with concubinage; the rites of conscience are ignored; the teaching of Holy Scripture is disregarded; and the children of men and women who, in their inmost hearts, believe themselves to be joined together according to God's will and commandment in holy matrimony, are, in common with their parents laid open to the inuendoes of the frivolous and the insults of the profane.
By all the considerations therefore of good feeling and sound policy, we urge the prompt and summary repeal of the Marriage Act of 1835, being convinced that legislation on such a matter is neither wise nor fitting.
LORD LYNDHURST's measure has not operated to deter widowers from marrying the sisters of their deceased wives, and is to that extent powerless.
Hence we maintain that the fair, honest, and Christian way of escape from the difficulty thus created is to repeal the Marriage Act of 1835, and leave the marrying and marriageable portion of the public free to choose within the limits of the Divine revelation has prescribed in respect of consanguinity.
MARRIAGE LAW REFORM