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Categorized | Religion, Society

On Marriage, Divorce, and the Submission of Women

One of the arguments against legislating divorce in the Philippines is that spouses will no longer promise to love each other forever. For instance, in the ANC Harapan debate which took place last June, Bishop Teodoro Bacani asked rhetorically how many women would like to be told by the groom at the wedding ceremony that he will love her only until divorce.

While the answer is obviously “none,” the fallacy of this argument lies in the underlying assumption that love will last for as long as the partners stay married to each other, and that making the option of divorce available not only renders the marriage provisional, but trivializes the spouses’ love as well.

A rhetorical question can be asked in return: In the only remaining country in the world without divorce, how many married couples actually love each other until death? More importantly, how many women complain that when they were still sweethearts their men treated them well, but shortly after they got married they were being neglected or even abused, because the husbands had become complacent with the assurance that marriage is a lifetime contract so the wives can just suck it up?

If marriage is made provisional by legislating divorce, there would be one less reason for either spouse to be complacent. Instead of relying on the perpetuity of the marriage bond, husband and wife will have to prove themselves worthy of each other everyday.

One of the milestones in our country’s legislative history that suggests that marriage should be a continuous courtship is the enactment of The Anti-Rape Law of 1997, wherein marital rape is impliedly recognized with the following provision:

Article 266-C. In case it is the legal husband who is the offender, the subsequent forgiveness by the wife as the offended party shall extinguish the criminal action or the penalty.

One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to interpret that to mean that the husband can be charged with rape unless the wife forgives him. Marriage doesn’t constitute “continuous consent”; just because a woman has freely and voluntarily entered into the contract of marriage doesn’t mean that she has also agreed to have sex anytime and every time he wants.

Unfortunately, this principle of marital freedom, where the wife can say no to the husband when it comes to sex and other matters, is somewhat undermined by no less than the Bible. Ephesians 5:22-24 mandates, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church…Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” While the succeeding verse (25) tries to balance this with the command, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” the complication starts when the husband fails to do his part of loving the wife. If that happens, is the wife still obliged to submit to the husband “in everything”?

Commenting on the U.S. statistics that ironically list Christians and Jews as having higher divorce rates than atheists and agnostics, American Atheists spokeperson Ron Barrier said:

With Atheism, women and men are equally responsible for a healthy marriage.  There is no room in Atheist ethics for the type of ‘submissive’ nonsense preached by Baptists and other Christian and/or Jewish groups.  Atheists reject, and rightly so, the primitive patriarchal attitudes so prevalent in many religions with respect to marriage.

One doesn’t have to be an atheist to reject female submission as a marital principle. It only requires that we shed off cultural notions of machismo to appreciate and value women as equal partners. And while disallowing divorce will impose a rigid permanence on the marriage bond, legislating divorce will make the marriage provisional and puts the spouses on their toes so that if the marriage is going to last, respect and especially seduction will have to continue long after the wedding day.


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DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.