PERSPECTIVEnMarriage — the Real Right to PrivacynThe 150-year-old crusade for women’s rights in Americanhas, in the different phases of its history, devoted itsnenergies to diverse causes. In the decades before and afternthe War Between the States, the principal cause was thenright of married women to control their own property. Innthe early 20th century, the cause was suffrage, and in morenrecent years it has been abortion — and equal pay for equalnwork. However, during most of this period, divorce lawsnwere always an important item on the feminists’ agenda.nThe strict regulation of divorce was, they argued, one ofnpatriarchy’s most powerful weapons, and only when womennwere freed of this legal terror, could they truly be free.nOne of their first important successes was a change inncustody practices. The redefinition of men’s and women’snsocial spheres in the 19th century had led to the newnconception of woman as an exclusively nurturing andnaffectionate creature, and by the 20th century children, whonhad been in former times uniformly given to their father’sncustody in eases of divorce, were now routinely being givennto their mothers.nThe culmination of the feminist divorce program werenthe no-fault divorce laws enacted throughout the UnitednStates in the 1960’s and 70’s, and the success or failure ofnthe women’s movement stands or falls with our interpretationnof such legal and political changes. In recent yearsnpragmatic feminists have argued that liberalized divorce lawsnhave benefited men at the expense of women and children,nand they have offered new remedies to solve the problemsncreated by the old. But the reinvention of marriage as annunenforceable contract has far deeper consequences thannthe mere “feminization of poverty,” and it is long since timenfor us to begin thinking about the meaning of marriage as ansocial (as opposed to merely legal and economic) institution.nMarriage may begin in a contract (traditionally thenagreement was more often between the families thannbetween the boy and girl), but it is “a contract to transcendnthe standpoint of contract,” as Hegel put it. Unlike mostnother contracts, the marriage bond is entered into in then14/CHRONICLESnby Thomas Flemingnnnexpectation that it will be permanent and irrevocable. Thisnwas true even in the later Roman-republic, where divorcesnwere common (at least in the political class) and easy tonprocure. The permanency of marriage was and is sealednwith the arrival of children whose needs are provided for bynhusband and wife. Since each child is, in genetics as well asnin folklore, half of each parent, it is in the interest of bothnspouses to maintain the union and to care for the earthly bitsnof their own immortality. The sexual bond, while it isnnourished in the pleasures of the bed and in intimatencompanionship, is essentially procreative, and. while thenprocreative aspect of both sexuality and marriage can benoveremphasized, as it has been by celibate theologians, thosenwho attempt to divorce children from erotic pleasure arenmissing the point. It is only in the creation of children thatnman and woman succeed in the mystical goal of sexualnexperience: the merging of identities.nAccording to the old Christian and Jewish ideal, man andnwife became one flesh. But to the Christian way of thinking,n”one flesh” was not so much an ideal as a fact of life. St.nPaul admonishes us to avoid fornication because eroticnintimacy binds us, willy-nilly, in a permanent union. If onenindiscretion brings us into bondage — as it does, at least innthe permanent records of our memory and imagination —nthen cohabitation, with or without benefit of clergy ornlicense, ties up our habits and our imaginings so tightly that,ndivorce or no, we can never cut ourselves free from what wenwere, so-and-so’s man, the woman of such-and-such.nThis same conclusion was arrived at recentiy by a feministnscholar, Terry Arendell, studying divorce:nMany women “still felt married,” regardless ofnwhether they had any relationship with their formernspouses. Divorce could not erase the memory of theirnmarried years or negate the presence of their children,nwho were a constant reminder of shared parenthood.nIf marriage must be, by intention, a permanent union, whatncan we say of divorce? In one sense, divorce may ben