Category Archives: marriage

God’s law and the law of the State

What happens when you have a particular group in society who are not minded to follow the law of the State, but prefer to follow God’s law as they interpret it?

Recently this question has come up in relation to Sharia law, particularly after the Archbishop of Canterbury said that some aspects of sharia law would inevitably be adopted in Britain. But the question doesn’t just arise in relation to Islam. Many religions have a group within who prefers the laws of God to the laws of the State. For example, orthodox Jews in Australia may take some disputes between one another to the Beth Din, a religious court where rabbis hand out judgment. And some indigenous Australians may prefer that a dispute be dealt with under traditional law rather than “whitefella law”.

My personal opinion is that as long as the law of God does not transgress fundamental human rights, then parties can consent to that particular law binding their actions. It is rather like an agreement to arbitrate in a contract where any disputes are referred to a mutually agreed arbitrator. The problem occurs when a particular practice or punishment which is said to be required by the law of God or tradition is illegal under the laws of the State: eg, stoning, spearing through the leg, promise of child brides etc. My personal opinion is that such things should not be allowed. The issue is slightly more vexed with indigenous tradition than it is with other religious laws because indigenous people didn’t “choose” to move here and to be subject to our laws, they were imposed upon them from colonisers. Nonetheless, as I have explained in one of my very early posts, as a feminist, I just cannot countenance the assault and rape of a teenage “promised bride” by her tribal husband, for example. Cultural relativism be damned.

It is a difficult question however, because it is a balance between religious tolerance and universal human rights (which should apply to all, regardless of race or religion or anything else).

Consequently, I was really interested to read this article in Slate about the American legal system and the Amish and the Mormons. I hadn’t really thought deeply about the conflict that would arise between State law and the traditions and laws of these two groups.

Amish are Anabaptists of Swiss-German origin who live in separate communities. They dress in conservative dress, do not use much modern technology and do not educate their children beyond 8th grade because of the “worldly values” they might learn. Study is focussed on the Bible, and children are expected to work in the fields with their parents once they leave school. They do not believe in Social Security, and do not either make payments or accept payments from the government. The educational practices and expectation that children will work in the fields has brought them in to conflict with US education and child labor rules. In Wisconsin v. Yoder 406 U.S. 205 (1972) three Amish parents were fined by the Wisconsin authorities for taking their children from school before the age of 16, but the US Supreme Court ultimately upheld the right of the parents to do this. Amish refuse to participate in wars, and their conscientious objection has also gotten them into trouble. As the article in Slate observes, the Amish have been given a fair degree of latitude, in part because they are peaceful and because they have managed to broker compromises with the State.

Mormons are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. They believe in the Book of Mormon. The Church of the Latter Day Saints officially abandoned polygamy after pressure from law enforcement in 1890, but some other fundamentalist groups continue to practice polygamy. The practice of taking multiple wives and taking child brides has brought the Fundamentalist Mormon Church into conflict with the law. In the last few weeks, Texan authorities raided a Fundamentalist Mormon compound after a 16 year old girl called authorities to say that she had recently borne a child to her 50 year old husband. Other US States are concerned that this raid may ruin their efforts to make Fundamentalist Mormons trust them and cooperate with them. As the Slate article outlined, a large raid on a Short Creek Fundamentalist Mormon community in 1953 was ultimately counterproductive. The Slate article concludes that the Mormon groups are in a different situation to the Amish:

But the fundamentalist Mormons groups are in a state of evasion. The ban on bigamy functions as a zoning ordinance: Plural marriage is fine in isolated communities, but not in Salt Lake City, and certainly not on TV talk shows, as Tom Green found. So long as the fundamentalists remain in hiding, the extreme ugliness of conducting raids creates a form of tolerance. They are thus in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” state of legal limbo that could break open at any time. They are outside the law in a different way.

It will be interesting to see whether the Texan raid is counterproductive or forces the Fundamentalist Mormon church into submission.

These situations remind us that the conflict between God’s law and the law of the State has many facets, and there are different ways of resolving the issue. Have a read of the Slate article and see what you think.

1 Comment

Filed under children, christianity, feminism, human rights, indigenous issues, islam, judaism, law, marriage, politics, religion, society, tolerance, USA

No wonder I cancelled my subscription to The Age

I’ve been a bit out of it lately; no time to read blogs or newspapers much. And I cancelled my subscription to The Age when we moved hoise. Why? Because they keep publishing stupid opinion pieces by authors like Catherine Deveny and Tracee Hutchison. I think the final straw was Deveny’s opinion piece about changing one’s surname after marriage. I don’t mind if someone has a different opinion to me, as long as it’s well thought out and well justified. But frankly, I’d prefer to read posts of my blogging friends, which are vastly better written and reasoned than these opinion writers. I think the blogosphere keeps a person honest. Try writing a post where you haven’t thought the issue through properly, and commenters and bloggers will point out what you have missed very quickly.

Anyway, I thought I might catch up on what I’ve missed in the blogosphere and MSM over the last two months, but I didn’t get very far before I discovered Deveny’s idiotic offering about affairs in marriage. I’m almost reluctant to talk about it, because to talk of it gives some credence to the piece, but I can’t get this irritation out of my head. I came upon it by reading Cynthia Karena’s response to Deveny’s article in The Age today. Karena puts it succinctly: “There’s no such thing as a good affair.” Well said.

Here’s an excerpt from Deveny’s piece.

Lifelong monogamy is an unrealistic expectation that makes people feel like failures. And if you don’t believe me, take one look at the divorce statistics. People are torn between their emotions and an archaic expectation that was conceived when the average life expectancy was 30. Monogamy is a wonderful way to maintain what the church and the state would call “social order” and, more importantly, to ensure paternity to hand wealth down to offspring.

Things are different now. In First World countries most people’s lives are no longer just about survival. Seeing survival’s sorted, we’re distracted by the promise of stimulation, happiness, constant change and upgrading. Eating our way up the food chain via hedonism and desire.

Yes, of course I think lifelong monogamy is a wonderful concept. And I would love to think that we would all find a mate for life and live happily ever after and be buried in the ground side by side for all eternity and never fancy another person. But it’s an unrealistic expectation. That is not to say that we shouldn’t try our best to achieve it. You can’t go into a relationship thinking: “I’ll stay till I get bored or she gets fat.” The mantra of for better or worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health is something that applies to all relationships. Not just sexual ones.

But what about the notion of spiritual theft? An open relationship is one thing, but what about a secret connection on the side that is filling the desire for something more breathless, more glittery, more slippery, more illusive. Something you just don’t get in a long-term relationship. Some people have confided in me that an affair has saved their relationship. We hear all the bad affair stories, but never the good affair stories. Most would say that it’s not right, but I can see that some people may feel that if no one is being hurt, that it is not totally wrong either.

This piece sounds like an apologia for cheaters, and that’s not something which sits well with me. It’s an excuse for the selfish person to cheat on his or her partner and say “Well, it was in everyone’s best interests really. I deserve it. I mean, after all, I’ve stuck with this person for 30 years. And now I can go back to my partner again.” And then they feel a happy little glow…

I disagree. If you go into a relationship which is expected to be monogamous, then you should not cheat with another person. I also disagree with the proposition that friendships are equivalent to sexual relationships. I don’t think that I have to swear to stay friends with someone, but if I’ve formally sworn that I will stay married with someone, that’s a different story. It’s no chance that in Jewish law, the bride and groom have to sign a ketubah or contract – it’s a promise. There are some friends who will be friends for life, of course, and whom I will stick with through thick and thin. And other friends drift in and out of your life, and I’m not a “cheater” if I drift apart from a friend and make new friends.

Of course cheating happens, and sometimes, there’s even a good reason for it. I have had friends who have cheated while they were in a relationship. And the circumstances were almost identical. The cheater repeatedly tried to end the relationship honourably, and the other person wouldn’t accept this and became hysterical and suicidal. So the cheater committed the ultimate unpardonable offence of cheating to finally put an end to the relationship. In both cases it worked, too. It seemed to me that the cheating was understandable in that kind of a situation.

But what about cheating on a partner who doesn’t know the relationship is in trouble or that the other person is unhappy? Or cheating on a partner just because you are “bored” and want to try something different? That just doesn’t seem appropriate to me. In the first instance, the cheater should communicate his or her dissatisfaction. In the second instance, the cheater is just a selfish bastard.  I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “good affair”. Say A is married to B and has an affair with C, but doesn’t tell B. Firstly, C might be expecting the relationship to continue, and C might be hurt. Secondly, even if B doesn’t know about the affair, it could still hurt B, and it’s certainly dishonest to B. The only one who wins is stinky old A. I would hate the idea of my partner cheating on me and not telling me. I’d rather end the relationship than keep on going with someone who lied to me and cheated with someone else. But I wouldn’t have a real choice because in the scenario above, I wouldn’t be told. And then if there’s kids involved, and they are aware that A is cheating, but can’t tell B, then they’re being hurt and betrayed too.

Perhaps it depends on what is meant by “cheating”. Speaking to another man is definitely not cheating. Looking at Brad Pitt and thinking he’s hot stuff is not cheating. In my view, nor is flirtatious conversation, as long as it’s made clear that it’s in fun only. Kissing or sleeping with someone else is definitely cheating.

There’s just no way to keep the hurt out of it. A friend of mine had ex-hippy parents with an “open relationship”. For many years, this seemed to work okay. Until he confessed he’d been sleeping with someone from work, so she told him that she had been sleeping with his best friend. Apparently just sleeping with just “someone from work” was okay, but sleeping with a “best friend” was a different story. They separated for a while. Then they decided they couldn’t live without one another, and got back together on a “non-open” basis.

I doubt that there’s many open relationships where both partners have remained unhurt, unless they are both selfish narcissists who don’t really care for one another, only for their own gratification.

People aren’t perfect, and unfortunately, cheating happens in marriage and other monogamous relationships. Some marriages or relationships may emerge stronger from the other end, with better communication between partners. But many break up, causing a great deal of pain to at least one party in the relationship. Let’s not make excuses for cheating. To cheat is to hurt the other person, and there’s no way around it.


Filed under cheating, marriage, media, sex