[Milton-L] The Doctrine and Discipline of Gay Divorce

Shoulson, Jeffrey jshoulson at mail.as.miami.edu
Thu Jul 21 13:22:32 EDT 2011

Thanks to Richard Strier for this response.

I do mostly agree with his assertion, though there does seem to me to be room to argue that Milton's account of marriage and divorce, as enlightened as it may have been for its time, still implies certain patriarchal assumptions.  At least that's what I understand Mary Nyquist's very important readings of the divorce tracts to assert.

But setting that important issued aside for the moment, I was, in a perhaps less than fully articulate fashion, trying to get at something a little different, which is that in all the spirited debates about same-sex marriage these days we have not, until these most recent reports, fully acknowledged that to address the question of same-sex marriage is also--and at the same time--to address the question of same-sex divorce.  And it is this realization that returns us to Milton's extensive meditations on marriage and divorce.


On Jul 21, 2011, at 12:19 PM, richard strier wrote:

> One of the many good things about Milton's conception of marriage as 
> essentially a matter of happy and nourishing conversation, in all its senses (and 
> of the necessary availability of divorce when this is lacking), is that it is perfectly 
> compatible with same-sex marriage and divorce.
> ---- Original message ----
>> Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2011 11:54:41 -0400
>> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of "Shoulson, Jeffrey" 
> <jshoulson at mail.as.miami.edu>)
>> Subject: [Milton-L] The Doctrine and Discipline of Gay Divorce  
>> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>> I have no intention of diverting our attention from the very interesting recent 
> discussion on nudity/nakedness, eroticism/pornography.  As usual, I have 
> found many of the comments to be most interesting and provocative.
>> I want to raise here a somewhat tangential matter.  Some list members may 
> have heard recent NPR reports or read in the NY Times that the latest 
> developments in the legalization of gay marriage have also led to some 
> important questions about gay divorce--without going into too much detail, the 
> upshot of these reports is that while it has become easier for lesbians and gay 
> men to marry each other, divorcing one another is another matter entirely.  
> Indeed, in those instances when couples travel from their home states, where 
> gay marriages are not legal, to states where gay marriage is legal and then seek 
> divorces back home, these divorces are nearly impossible to obtain, resulting in 
> all kinds of legal complications, not to mention, when there are children 
> involved, very painful matters of custody.
>> Without wishing to enter into the merits of the whole gay marriage question, it 
> has occurred to me that some of these reports are producing discussions of 
> marriage and divorce that have a very Miltonic strain to them.  Milton would not, 
> of course, have taken up the question of gay marriage.  But his arguments about 
> divorce clearly ground themselves in the basic premise that the availability of 
> divorce as a remedy for an unsatisfying marriage is elemental to the very 
> institution of marriage, not after the fact, but ab initio.  Take for example the 
> following, from Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Bk. 1, chap. 4:
>> "He therefore who, lacking of his due in the most native and human end of 
> marriage, thinks it better to part than to live sadlty and injuriously to that 
> cheerful covenant (for not to be beloved and yet retained, is the greatest injury 
> REMARKS IN ALL OF MILTON]), he, I say, who therefore seeks to part, is one who 
> highly honors the married life and would not stain it, and the reasons which now 
> move him to divorce are equal to the best of those that could first warrant him 
> to marry."
>> I wonder what others on this list think.
>> Best,
>> Jeffrey
>> Jeffrey S. Shoulson, Ph. D.
>> Director of Undergraduate Studies
>> Associate Professor of English and Judaic Studies
>> University of Miami
>> PO Box 248145
>> Coral Gables, FL 33124-4632
>> (o) 305-284-5596
>> (f) 305-284-5635
>> jshoulson at miami.edu<mailto:jshoulson at miami.edu>
>> www.as.miami.edu/english/people/#jshoulson<http://www.as.miami.edu/eng
> lish/people/#jshoulson>
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