Interesting article in this month's Smithsonian about women and divorce, especially interesting in light of the long awaited release of the Supreme Court ruling, or should I say dismantling, of the precedent of Roe V Wade.
The article details one woman in particular, and all women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who found themselves in a marriage that did not work for them. Although she lived on Manhattan Island in New York, the particular woman, Blanche Molineaux, had traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to seek a divorce.
During this period, ending a divorce depended on where you lived, as the concept was legislated at the state level, and was strictly limited to residents of each state. In 1902 when this story takes place, South Dakota had one of the least restrictive resident requirements before one could divorce under its laws, six months. And Sioux Falls, located at the eastern side of South Dakota, and served by multiple train lines, became a desired location for woman seeking to divorce from their husbands.
While this may sound a bit far-fetched, women traveling thousands of miles to exercise what we today would consider a basic right, to be able to choose whom to love and marry, during America's first century woman were legally treated pretty much as property, so a woman divorcing a man was akin to a couch seeking a divorce from its owner.
At this point, the story gets sensationalized, because it turns out that Blanche's husband is not only unloved by Blanche, but is a murderer to boot, twice over. Blanche herself was no shrinking violet either, as one of the victims of Mr Molineaux was her alleged lover, but despite his actions, murder was not a legal reason to seek divorce in New York, only adultery, and only if committed by the husband.
Blanche did in fact, gain her divorce, did remarry, and in fact divorced her second husband as well. Like many stories of those who choose to act outside the prevalent norms of society, hers allows us to wonder at the backwardness of past perceptions, and feel happy that no such laws and taboos exist today that would prevent an entire gender from seeking life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as one such famous declaration stated.
Until this week, that is, with the recent decision by the Supreme Court. Positing that abortion is not "deeply rooted in the Nation's history and tradition", Justice Alito, along with the four other justices who prefer a 19th century America to a 21st century one, have, for the first time in our history, negated a right which had been granted.
While I am sickened by this decision, Alito is correct in one aspect. There is no deep rooted history and tradition of treating women as equal to men, just as there is no deep rooted history and tradition of treating black people as equal, and certainly no deep rooted history and tradition of treating the LGBTQ population as equal. While I can understand why the four men voted to legalize 2nd class status to women, it seems astonishing that a woman would agree. It makes me think that Justice Coney Barett she may one day be perceived on par with Benedict Arnold, in this case for betraying her gender rather than country.
As for Justice Thomas, well, we had our chance to block him from appointment when Anita Hill revealed his true nature. Sadly, as with Brett Kavanaugh's hearing, woman are, at best, not believed, at worse, treated with disdain by those who relish in the thought that they can do whatever they want to women (see Donald Trump) as long as they remain in good standing and abide in the unstated rules of the rich, (and generally) white-men-who-have-ruled-America-forever club.
What alarms me just as much as this apparent return to men-will-be- men, and too bad for women who are now mandated to carry an unwanted child, no extra laws having been passed requiring paternity to be established at birth, and, at least, financial assistance be provided by the male in question, is the knowledge that the five justices who agreed with Alito's outrageous opinion, are all Catholic (or raised Catholic as was Justice Gorsuch). Only John Roberts, also Catholic, was able to separate his faith from his adherence to the law (sort of like the separation of church and state, which sounds familiar in reference to our founders).
In other words, we are moving towards a theocracy. Now, don't get me wrong, a theocracy is better than an autocracy, in that at least with a theocracy we know the rules Catholics follow, where in an autocracy, who knows what wild hair will effect Trump when he rolls over his empty fast food containers and out of bed.
True, gay marriage is out. As are any laws allowing people to express any type of gender identity that scares the pope and his male cohorts. Interracial marriage, perhaps not in those Nazi states where white nationalism still holds sway. Sex education, no way. In fact, even birth control, other than those two famously effective methods of penis withdrawal before ejaculation and the rhythm method, would become law, although, strangely, the declining enrollment of children in parochial schools in the last 40 years might indicate that most Catholics already stopped obeying that "law". Fortunately for the meat industry, that whole no meat on Friday during Lent rule was allowed to go by the wayside.
But with an autocracy, all bets are off. Morals, norms, laws, equal treatment for all, all those ideas that represent our idealized (if not realized) version of American democracy, would be totally dependent on the whims of the not elected leader. Free press, forget it. Fair elections, yea, fair when the dictator wins.
(As a side note, I saw that among other crazy notions, the Texas GOP's recently released platform calls for the 10 Commandments to be taught in schools again. I wonder if any of those Christian delegates have actually read those commandments lately? While teaching moral lessons is certainly a good idea, I wonder if they realize that replacing the rule of law with the rule of their god, sounds a bit like the Taliban's belief that sharia law should be enshrined in government.)
So, what is to be done? Sadly, we are now embarking on at least a decade of legalized, unequal treatment of millions of women in America. I say a decade because, once abortion is made illegal even in those states that allow an exception for rape, incest and the medical necessity to save the mother, it will take quite some time for women to regain their right to choose, especially in states that are red as blood. A decade, at least, because it will take women to vote as a bloc to regain their status as equal to men, and there are far too many women today that are either nonchalant about the right to choose, perhaps never having faced an unwanted pregnancy, or too brain washed by their particular strain of religious thinking in which women should be, first and foremost, a vessel for children, wanted or not. In other words, it will take the gradual changeover of women voters (and men, to a degree) due to the young becoming eligible voters and the old passing to another realm.
In the meantime, the Biden Administration must guarantee that no state may prevent women from their state to seek an abortion in another state. Also, if there is a way that the medications that are available to induce an abortion can still be mailed within those states that have banned it, that process should be pursued. Perhaps in states where the legislature bans abortion but the governor still respects the right to choose. And, to expose the hypocrisy, all pro choice candidates must push for equal responsibility laws for mandated pregnancies, so that the burden does not fall on women alone.
One last caution. In the above paragraphs, I joke about theocracy being better than an autocracy, but the the real joke is thinking we will have a choice between the two. Power is power, and those who seek it, above all, will not care what guise their power comes from, far right religious beliefs, white nationalism, anti-whatever makes people vote for me, or just lies and distortions.
Democracy, Virginia, is not our birthright, not divinely inspired, not the inevitable result of our evolving nature towards fairness. It is hard work, attention to details, and the ongoing battle to throw off the shackles of our past prejudices, while moving towards a day when we don't need laws to guarantee equal treatment, we just know it in our hearts and our heads, despite our religion, gender, race or origin.