Thursday, July 10, 2014

Protection of Marriage —1920 Edition

Till death, or Congress,
do you part
One of the claims made by the opponents of marriage for same-sex couples is that by allowing same-couples to marry, marriage will be further devalued. Some go on to say that the real enemy is divorce (since in any given year, it’s likely that there will be more divorces of opposite-sex couples than marriages of same-sex couples), but that if they give up on same-sex marriage, they will never be able to fight divorce.

That doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to me (then again, the objections to same-sex marriage don't make any sense to me). What if they tried it? Then they could find out what the public reaction was, if they had any hope of making divorce difficult or impossible to obtain.

It would seem that in 1920, someone tried just that: fighting divorce, and the New York Evening World was having none of it, printing this editorial on July 10, 1920.

Prohibit Both.

To further improve the Constitution of the United State by an amendment making divorce impossible is the purpose of a newly formed organization which calls itself the Society for the Upholding of the Sanctity of Marriage.

The idea is first to get all clergymen to declare against the remarriage of divorced persons and then to jam an anti-divorce amendment into the Federal Constitution by processes already employed with success.

It was a foregone conclusion that the triumph of the Anti-Saloon League in abolishing personal liberty by constitutional amendment would prove an invitation to other zealous groups whose aim is to regulate the lives of their fellow-beings.

Here they come. The Constitution is defenseless. Marshal the forces, organized the lobbies and make way for more Nation-wide regulation.

The Anti-Divorce League should try to be logical as well as bold.

Why not an amendment abolishing marriage?.

If we had to abolish alcoholic drink because some people misused it, why not abolish all marriages become some turn out badly?.

Marriage is responsible for divorce.

Amend the Constitution to prohibit both.
The Society for the Upholding of the Sanctity of Marriage was a real thing. It had been founded on the 8th of July, 1920 (and the last newspaper article I’ve found on it was on July 31, 1920). It was founded by an Episcopalian minister, the Reverend Dr. Walter Gwynne.

It was widely reported that the Society sought a constitutional amendment to ban divorce, with this piece from the July 10, 1920 Ogden Standard-Examiner, of Ogden, Utah:
Society Starts Out to Make Divorce Impossible
New York, July 10.— Inauguration of an campaign for a federal constitutional amendment making divorce possible was announced by the Rev. Dr. Walter Gwynne, general secretary of the Society for the Upholding of the Sanctity of Marriage.

Vigorous propaganda will be carried on, said Dr. Gwynne to extend the membership of the organization to every Christian denomination in the country, and ministers of every creed will be urged to refuse to perform the marriage ceremony for any person that has been divorced.

Leaders of the movement say it is endorsed by Episcopal clergymen of New York, and by numerous judges throughout the country.
A week after that, the Washington Times was reporting
Twentieth Amendment Would Stop Divorces
Society for the Upholding of the Sanctity of Marriage Proposes to Stop Remarriage After Separation
New York, July 17.—The twentieth amendment to the Constitution of the United States is in the process of creation. It would prohibit divorce and leave only the recourse of legal separation or annulment, without the right to remarry, to those couples who discover too late that courtship and marriage are two different propositions.
But on July 16, the Rev. Dr. Gwynne had already tried to clarify the matter with a letter to the New-York Tribune, saying that
Its aim is not to secure an amendment to the Constitution, either to forbid divorce or to allow Congress to adopt uniform legislation on the subject.
The New-York Tribune had been the source of the initial report on the Society in their July 9, 1920 edition, where they had written:
Propose Twentieth Amendment to Make Divorce Impossible The Rev. Dr. Walter Gwynne, of Summit, N. J., announced yesterday the formation of an organization the purpose of which is to make divorce impossible. It is the aim of the body to have an amendment carrying out its ideal appended to the Constitution of the United States.
We have conflicting reports here. On one hand, the Tribune reported that the Society wished an amendment. A week later, one of its leaders (Gwynne) denies any such thing, although that was after he received
letters, most of them unsigned, using such polite epithets as “ass,” “fool,” “hypocrite,” “puritan,” and in one case (written appropriately in red ink) charging him with being an instigator of murder!
Though the final article claims that the Society was growing rapidly in Episcopalian churches with affiliated chapters emerging in other denominations, it seems to have quickly vanished without a trace. It probably didn’t help when Gwynne endorsed the Presidential candidacy of James M. Cox, despite that Cox was divorced and remarried. Cox would go on to a crushing defeat in the election, with Warren G. Harding getting 60.3% of the vote. (I should say nice things about Cox, because the company he founded owns my ISP.)

The El Paso Herald noted on July 31, 1920 that
The moment governor James M. Cox, of Ohio, was nominated by the Democrats at San Francisco, and it became known that he is a divorced man, Christian ministers who are leading in a movement to forbid the remarriage of divorced persons, no matter the ground of the divorce, began to confer personally and by correspondence as to what should be their attitude. Rather oddly, governor Cox and his family by the divorced wife are Disciples of Christ, while his second wife and her family are Episcopalians, and he has been attending church services with her. It is these two bodies that are pushing the plan hardest to prevent remarriage of divorces, innocent party or the opposite.

Now Dr. Walter Gwynne, of the large an influential Episcopal society for upholding the sanctity of marriage comes out in a formal interview, the first to speak, saying he will vote for governor Cox, although he comes from Republican antecedents, and he will urge other members of the society to do the same.
In this case, the Rev. Dr. Gwynne found his support of the League of Nations covenant trumped his feelings on divorce and remarriage, and he felt that the Republicans would not ratify the covenant.

So, there might have been a movement to ban divorce by constitutional amendment, though a founder of the movement claimed he was misunderstood, and they just wanted to stop those divorced people from marrying in their churches. In any case, the whole thing seems to have crumbled away. When you search for “Society for the Upholding of the Sanctity of Marriage,” everything you get is about same-sex marriage, including this rather disturbing letter to the Standard Journal of Pennsylvania:
The evil one is constantly trying to destroy all that is good, decent and beautiful.

Destroying marriage, which is the foundation of our society, is at the top of his list. You are truly a soldier fighting in the Lord’s army. Stay strong, and may God bless you as you fight to help to legally uphold the sanctity of marriage. Thank you so much for your hard work and sacrifice.
That’s from June, 2014. Last month. Makes me wonder if we’ve learned anything in the last 94 years.
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