Not infrequently of late years, brides have been successful in persuading the ministers who performed their marriage ceremony to omit the word “obey” from the service. (I am ignorant of the Prestyberian form of religious marriage service, and do not know whether the prospective wife is asked if she will promise to obey her husband.)
But last week Miss Cicely Corbett, daughter of a late member of Parliament, went further, and had the ceremony arranged so as to omit altogether that part of the church service which includes the objectionable question.
This could not be done in a regular way in a church, so the marriage took place in a congregational hall, and the actual ceremony was performed by a registrar; the Rev. Hugh Chapman, chaplain of the Chapel Royal Savoy, well known as a champion of women’s rights, following with an address.
While agreeing with Miss Corbett as to the impertinence of the exacted promise to obey, I cannot see that it is worth making any public fuss about. A great deal of the Anglican marriage service is grossly impertinent — to put it mildly — to modern ears, and the only way to get through it decently is not to listen to it seriously at all, but merely to keep one’s wits sufficiently awake to say “Yes” in the right places. Promising or not promising to obey cannot make the slightest difference to the relations of husband and wife afterwards.
When this service was compiled by devout men hundreds of years ago, there was never the slightest doubt among them but that obedience was the first duty of a wife; but evidently some misgiving lest, if not bound by a solemn promise, her waywardness of temper might give some trouble to the man who “owned” her as master.
The women very likely accepted this — all of them but a few high-spirited termagants — as their proper attitude towards their men. We have travelled far since then towards a higher and saner view of family life, so why bother about an obsolete phrase which everybody laughs at?
Let me quote from an amusing modern novelist on this point:
“And you are losing your dear niece — a sweet girl.”
“A good girl, madam. Obedient. More than most ladies are nowadays.”
“But dear man, nobody asks women to be obedient nowadays. So crinoliny! See how happily people pull in opposite directions now, don’t they? What does it matter?”
“Only that it upsets the cart,” said Sir William.