Thursday, June 05, 2008
Contractuality and Marriage
I usually don't wax political here, partly because I feel like I don't have the tools to do so. However, after a few good conversations I feel a little 'tooled up.'
Many folks have noted the current 'contract' nature of contemporary married life, and how it differs from the biblical idea of covenant. Covenant, in biblical perspective, is fundamentally personal--that is it's a commitment to a person. Contract, contrastingly, is a commitment to an understood agreement, it has more to do with imagined rights--if a person does not fulfill the agreement then the other can repeal the contract. Contract cannot help but to wax utilitarian as it rests on the assumption that a husband or wife will produce results fitting certain expectations. Covenant, lives with the other--husband or wife "in sickness and in health," and remembering YHWH and Israel covenant even lasts through sin, covenant is consequentially anti-utilitarian.
For a while now the language of "partner" has been employed by all (left and right) as an apt description the married other. Partner language has, seemingly, provided an opportunity to understand marriage in more egalitarian terms, partners working together in similar tasks. Whatever the benefits of partner language, and for many it is interchangeable with husband and wife, it seems to provide more contractual language for marriages. After all one of the meanings of partner comes from the business sphere, as in "business partners" and has strong contractual roots. Another sign of the codification of contractuality can be seen in the the recent advances for same-sex couples, albeit as a byproduct. The new marriage licenses don't say "bride" and "groom" but rather "party A" and "party B."
There is of course a dialectical relationship between language and action, but these are signs that the contractuality of marriage is becoming publicly codified.