No Consent Marriage

Spare a moment to consider the idea of No Consent Marriage. There are a lot of precedents for it: Herodotus, Livy, and Plutarch all begin a history with tales of abducted brides; and depending how you want to tell the story of the Iliad you either have to begin with Helen or Briseis, both of whom were abducted brides.  As far as I can tell, all such marriages were presumed valid, though it’s hard to see any basis for this other than the obvious one: those who took the women were strong enough to get away with it. By “strong enough” I don’t mean that the men were strong enough to pick them up and forcibly perform a marriage ceremony – any man now is strong enough in that sense, at least to some girl or another. The “strength” in question came from the widespread agreement among everyone (or the majority, or the powerful-enough elite) that marriage just is the enactment of the will of the conquering  individual. 

So say I woke up this morning in the midst of a vigorous debate about No Consent Marriage. I would have religious objections to it – Christianity is clear and emphatic about the necessity of mutual consent. I might have a historical case against it too – except this would be weaker, give the historical prevalence of marriage by abduction. I suppose I could make a case against it from the definition of marriage – marriage just is the union of two mutually consenting parties. Given the historical record, it might be easier to condemn the practice as sexist since it has disproportionately affected women, but given the relevant notion of strength there is no reason why women could not be strong enough to be initiators of No Consent Marriage.

The only argument I can imagine being effective in public is a self-interest one: if we allow No Consent Marriage, then anyone could abduct me or my wife, sister, daughter, son, etc. Now that was an argument I could give in public, one that could stop No Consent Marriage in its tracks. Everyone would immediately see the axiomatic power of my own self-interest, and the force it should have in shaping the law. In the equality of self-interest of all citizens we strike on a good that is sacred and inviolable.

To be honest, the conclusion of all of this was that it was beautiful to find something sacred. Whatever restrictions or qualifications that should be placed on love of ones self and ones own, there is still something deservedly sacred about it. It’s nice to see an axiom over which there is a perfect agreement between the public mind and the public will: consent is valued as a good, but it is seen as a speculative truth as well, i.e. as simply written into the nature of things.

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