No Objections: What History Tells Us About Gay Marriage
Although gender parity between spouses would have been unthinkable at the founding of the United States, marriage laws have moved over time in this direction. In Anglo-American common law, marriage was based on the legal fiction that the married couple was a single entity, with the husband serving as its sole legal, economic, and political representative. Under this doctrine, known as coverture, the wife’s identity merged into her husband’s. She had no separate legal existence. A married woman could not own or dispose of property, earn money, have a debt, sue or be sued, or enter into an enforceable agreement under her own name. The spouses were assigned opposite economic roles understood as complementary: the husband was bound to support and protect the wife, and the wife owed her service and labor to her husband.
By Nancy F. Cott, Boston Review