Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Sections
Blog Section Banner
 
You are here: Home >> Blog >> Marie Fortune's Blogs >> “Marriage Is Sacred”

“Marriage Is Sacred”

A few years back there was a news article in California about the prosecution of a husband for marital rape of his wife. The wife had locked herself in the bedroom to protect herself from the abusive husband. He broke down the door and assaulted her. His defense at trial was that he was Roman Catholic and the church had taught him that once he married, he could have sex with his wife any time he chose; therefore his arrest for marital rape was a violation of his First Amendment right to exercise religion.

A few years back there was a news article in California about the prosecution of a husband for marital rape of his wife. The wife had locked herself in the bedroom to protect herself from the abusive husband. He broke down the door and assaulted her. His defense at trial was that he was Roman Catholic and the church had taught him that once he married, he could have sex with his wife any time he chose; therefore his arrest for marital rape was a violation of his First Amendment right to exercise religion.

The judge in this case was not impressed by this defense. The abusive husband was convicted. A reporter went immediately to the local Archdiocese and asked for a comment on this case. The spokesperson assured the reporter that this was not the church’s teaching on marital sex, that marriage was sacred, that husbands and wives should respect each other, etc. What the spokesperson did not say was that marital rape is a sin and contrary to church teaching; it is a form of domestic violence. He could have added: “This man’s misuse of church teaching to justify abuse of his wife is blasphemous.” In other words, he could have taken advantage of this situation to educate the public about domestic violence and state a firm position on the part of the church.

So this past week’s headline caught my attention: “India Will Not Criminalize Marital Rape Because Marriage is a Sacrament”. According to the Minister of State for Home Affairs, “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors e.g. level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament, etc.”

This response from the government is curious given that the movement to address gender based violence in India has grown significantly in recent years. High profile rape cases have galvanized activists to challenge “social customs and values” that have justified violence against women.

But because the Indian government response to the proposal to criminalize marital rape is using religious language, I am trying to wrap my head around this. Because marriage is a sacrament (sacred), the state should not criminalize sexual assault within marriage? Or because “marriage is sacred”, the wife has no right to refuse sex from her husband? In this case, it sounds like what is really sacred is the husband’s right to control the wife… “patriarchy is a sacrament”.

“Sacred” and “sacrament” are religious terms that mean entitled to reverence and respect. If marriage is sacred, then this means that both husbands and wives are entitled to reverence and respect from each other. In a sexual relationship, this means that consent is fundamental for both parties.

Once again religion is being misused and spiritual language has been appropriated to support heinous cultural attitudes and customs about gender based violence. Interestingly, it’s not even a particular religious tenet in question, just the notion that “marriage is a sacrament” which is short hand for “do not question what goes on in marriage.”

What makes this so appalling is not that these arguments are unusual, but rather that they are so familiar. This was the same excuse that the wife abuser tried to use in California in his defense against the charges of marital rape.

Will we ever get to a point where religion is no longer used to justify and excuse the violation of civil and human rights of women but rather used to uphold and defend these rights? We live in hope.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
www.FaithTrustInstitute.org
Subscribe to my blog

We welcome your comments. Please note that your comments will not be visible until they are approved by the moderator.

We welcome your comments. Please note that your comments will not be visible until they are approved by the moderator. - See more at: http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/blog/marie-fortune/217#sthash.VH52icmA.dpuf
Document Actions