Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/237

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OUR MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE LAWS.

contract of the value of twenty dollars, subject to the verdict of a jury or the decision of a court, that is so easily avoided and so shamefully dissolved as the contract of marriage. The facts show that the law and the courts enforce the obligations of a delinquent debtor with more severity than the obligations of this contract upon which the happiness of the family, the morality of society, and the perpetuity of the State depend. The marriage contract is of a higher inspiration, and has a broader obligation, than a mere contract for the payment of money, or for the transfer of property, or for co-operation in business. It is one in which society is more deeply interested, one by which society is more seriously affected; and society has the right to demand that the mutual obligations shall be faithfully kept and lawfully enforced.

This-lack of uniformity in the laws, both in their formulation and execution, is the result of the diversity of sources from which they emanate. Each State is its own authority, and determines for itself the conditions upon which the marriage relation of its people may be entered into or dissolved; and, perhaps, the social and moral sentiment of the people of a State can not be more equitably determined than by observing the character and use of its laws governing marriage and divorce; for the various degrees of restriction and laxity in marriage and divorce have marked the progress and decline of all peoples and nations ever since the days when Adam and Eve went out of paradise and Moses wrote the law on Mount Sinai. Several States still retain upon their statute-books the common-law prohibition of marriage between persons related by consanguinity, or affinity, nearer than the third degree; while other States have progressed to that degree of liberality on the road to individual freedom and universal happiness which permits a person to marry, if not his grandmother, at least the daughter of his wife by a former husband. So we find that while two persons within certain degrees of relationship may lawfully marry in one State, they are prohibited from marrying by the laws of another State; and that while a marriage between certain persons is voidable only in one State, it is absolutely void under a similar law in another State.

It would be interesting to review at length the marriage and divorce laws of the several States, and note their want of uniform operation; but, for the purposes of this article, which must be brief, I shall confine myself to a comparative notice of the laws of two or three States only. In Ohio, "male persons of the age of eighteen years, and female persons of the age of sixteen years, not nearer kin than second-cousins, and not having a husband or wife living, may be joined in marriage," provided that if the male person is under the age of twenty-one, and the female person is under the age of eighteen, they shall first obtain the consent of their parents, respectively. The marriage may be solemnized by an ordained minister of any religious congregation who has first obtained a license authorizing him to solemnize marriages; or