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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The French Revolution and the sexual revolution

Especially momentous for relations between husband and wife was the weakening of the political model upon which marriage had long been based. Until the late seventeenth century the family was thought of as a miniature monarchy, with the husband king over his dependents. As long as political absolutism remained unchallenged in society as a whole, so did the hierarchy of traditional marriage. But the new political ideals fostered by the Glorious Revolution in England in 1688 and the even more far-reaching revolutions in America and France in the last quarter of the eighteenth century dealt a series of cataclysmic blows to the traditional justification of patriarchal authority.
In the late seventeenth century John Locke argued that governmental authority was simply a contract between ruler and ruled and that if a ruler exceeded the authority his subjects granted him, he could be replaced. In 1698 he suggested that marriage too could be seen as a contract between equals.
[...] If wives and husbands were intimates, wouldn't women demand to share decisions equally? If women possessed the same faculties of reason as men, why would they confine themselves to domesticity? Would men still financially support women and children if they lost control over their wives' and children's labor and could not even discipline them properly? If parents, church, and state no longer dictated people's private lives, how could society make sure the right people married and had children or stop the wrong ones from doing so?
Conservatives warned that "the pursuit of happiness," claimed as a right in the American Declaration of Independence, would undermine the social and moral order.
[...] The revolutionary government in France made divorce the most accessible it would be until 1975 and also abolished the legal penalties for homosexual acts. Such penalties ran contrary to the Enlightenment principle that the state should remain aloof from people's private lives. "Sodomy violates the rights of no man," said Condorcet. Although Napoleon repealed France's liberal divorce law in the early 1800s, he reaffirmed the decriminalization of homosexuality, [and also decriminalized consanguinamory].
During the 1790s the French revolutionaries redefined marriage as a freely chosen civil contract, abolished the right of fathers to imprison children to compel obedience, mandated equal inheritance for daughters and sons, and even challenged the practice of denying inheritance rights to illegitimate children, the cornerstone of property rights for thousands of years.
 - Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History

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