When Stephanie Coontz argued that marriage has historically been a private decision, I questioned her historical argument.

In a piece that is worth reading in its entirety, Michael Fragoso takes her down point by point.  Here’s the conclusion:

Coontz takes complex legal and theological doctrines such as consent and twists them into a vision of sexual anarchy on one hand–with men and women marrying willy nilly at their loins’ urging, like characters in a raunchy Catalonian romance–or brutally subjugated to the dynastic interests of their families, as in so many hagiographies of old.

Against these cultural tendencies Western society erected laws on marriage. Not only do these laws ensure the continuation of society through the rearing of subsequent generations; they also aimed to protect the rights of men and women. For example, laws in favor of free consent as well as those proscribing consanguinity and affinity protect individuals from being forced into marriage for the sake of dynastic concerns. Likewise, public marriage banns protect women from being two-timed by bigamist rakes. It’s too bad all this is lost to Coontz as she furthers her tiresome agenda.

The piece is, unfortunately, missing footnotes for those who might wish to chase them.  But his analysis demonstrates that at best, Coontz’s argument lacks the historical sophistication to actually be persuasive.  If Fragoso (and I!) are right, then the history of marriage may be nuanced, but it has a public character that cannot be ignored.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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