"Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That's their natural and first weapon." ~ Gloria Steinem

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Matilda Joslyn Gage on marriage

The power possessed by the church during the middle ages was largely due to the control it had secured over domestic relations, and that no more severe blow has ever been inflicted upon it than the institution of civil marriage.... The Protestant pulpit is only less dangerous than the Catholic to the liberties of the people in that its organized strength is less. The old medieval control of the family under and through marriage is now as fully the aim of the Protestant church as of the Catholic.... The courts of this country have decided that marriage is a civil contract. As such a clergyman is no more fitted to take part in it than he would be to take acknowledgment of a deed, or take part in the legalization of any other contract. In fact a marriage performed by a clergyman of any denomination should be regarded as invalid in the light of civil law.

-- Matilda Joslyn Gage, "The Dangers of the Hour," refuting the Pope's and clergy's opposition to America's institution of civil marriage, quoted from Annie Laurie Gaylor, Women Without Superstition, p. 218-9. positiveatheism.org


  1. Personally, I've always felt like marriage should have nothing to do with the Government. I don't really see what business of theirs it is to begin with.

    All marriages should just be private ceremonies. The fact that we've made a legal contract out of what's suppose to be a beautiful union of two people is really the problem.

  2. "It is an infringement of individual rights, that either state or church should possess absolute control over this important relation, — one that enters the inmost life of the individual persons contracting it. The parties themselves as chiefly interested, should hold power over its forms. When consummated it might be placed upon record for their own safety as is done in case of other contracts."

    This is my favorite quote from Gage's speech "The Dangers of the Hour." Writing this in 1890, she was NOT talking about same sex marriage, but was very concerned about individual civil rights and separation of church and state, which is really what marriage equality is all about, isn't it?

    The entire speech text is online at http://www.pinn.net/~sunshine/gage/features/danger.html
    and is also available for sale (with comments and annotations) from the Gage Foundation at

    Gage's home is being restored into a museum that will tell the story of Freethinkers who challenged those who wanted to merge church and state in the 19th century, as well as the story of abolition, woman suffrage, the Haudenosaunee, and L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz.