Dr. Geraldine Sharp
THE CHANGING NATURE OF THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT
[A paper presented at The International Conference on Theology and Sociology; Laval University March 1996.
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In Western liberal democracies changes in the nature of the marriage contract are emerging. The changing nature of the marriage contract profoundly affects patriarchal power. Marriage and the patriarchal family have been vehicles
for the control of women and their sexuality.... In the Church this control has been supported by an ideology of patriarchy, justified by a patriarchal theology. There is however a dilemma. Marriage is the only sacrament where the Church has no
part to play in the sacramental contract. No priest need be present. The sacrament is validly conferred by the spouses upon each other. Church control of marriage and the family has necessarily been from outside the contract. If couples choose
to change their contract with each other there is little the Church can do about it. How therefore can a patriarchal Church retain control of marriage, the family and women?
Historically the Church has attempted to control the nature of the
contract externally by
- defining the terms and conditions for married people
- the introduction of 'forbidden times' for marriage
- the exclusion of certain groups and the control of sexual activity within marriage
As these external controls break down and couples decide for themselves the nature of their contract, clerical control of marriage is lost. In order to retain control of marriage and the family thereby diffusing the threat to patriarchal power
women must be controlled. Women must remain subordinate to men in the family and in the Church. Women must continue to be defined by men in light of their sexual relations with men, as wives, mothers or virgins.
In patriarchal ideology and
theology the justification for such control has been the assumption of male superiority...continues...