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ABOUT MARRIAGES., Issue 7963, 19 July 1889
THE HISTORY OF AN UNLUCKY MEASURE. [From Our Special Correspondent.] London, May 17. The following interesting vesumt of the marriage with a deceased wife's sister agitation will be read with special interest in your colony:— Last year there came to London the accredited representative of one of England's great colonial provinces—to be more precise, the Agent-General from Tasmania. And as he was about to return to his home he said to a gentleman, and he said it with indignation :—" They talk to us of federation between the colonies and the Mother Country. Why, sir, the woi dis a mockery, Federation, when England makes and refuses to unmake marriage laws which are an insult to thousands of happy families in Australia, Canada, and other British possessions ? Federation, when I am afraid to bring my wife to this country for fear she might be told that the sacred rites which made us one flesh in Tasmania are but empty forms in England ? Federation, when my children, who are such before God and man in Tasmania, are liable to have the blush of shame brought to their cheeks as they step upon England's soil, where in the eyes of the church and the eyes of the law I they arc but bastards ? Federation, when a ; man like Sir Alexander Gait, then Canadian I Commissioner—a man upon whom had been i deservedly bestowed almost every honor i Her Majesty could give—was, upon his j arrival in England some sixteen years ago, ! informed that his wife could not be received at court because the law declared that she was nothing more than his mistress ? No, sir, there can never be any true federation until this outrageous wrong bo righted, until these unjust and iniquitous marriage laws be annulled." A PECULIAR SITUATION. This was certainly strong language from a man in the position of the Tasmanian Agent-General, but the situation seems, to sf\y the least, so very peculiar as to justify almost any kind of language. And it has all grown out of that hoary-headed question as to marriage between a man and his deceased wife's sister. The gentlemen referred to above had contracted such marriages, whereas the law of this country declares the same to bo no marriages at all—in England. HOW IT HAPPENED. Persons unfamiliar with legal vagaries may wonder how such an extraordinary state of affairs ever came into existence, or how, being in existence, it is allowed to exist to-day; for it does exist to-day as was shown by tho vote of the House of Lords on Thursday evening, whereby the Bill to allow men in England, as in the colonies, to marry the sisters of their deceased wives, was again defeated, as it has been defeated many times during the past fifty years. And that brings us to another peculiar thing about these marriages. Before 1835 they were, to all intents and purposes, as valid in England as they are to-day in other civilised countries, tho law against them having long been a dead letter. But it happened that in 1835 the Duke of Beaufort, very rich and very important, was seized with doubts as to the validity of his marriage, he having done this very thing. So he got the most famous lawyer of hia time, Lord Lyndhurst—and he paid him royally for his trouble—to upset the whole code of English marriage law for his especial benefit. And so successful was Lord Lyndhurst in upsetting it that to this day no one has been able to set it right again, The law passed at that time, and still in force, provided that all marriages with the deceased wife's sister which had been contracted up to 1835 should be made valid, but all succeeding uuions of the kind should not bo marriages. This suited the Duke of Beaufort admirably, and that was all Lord Lyndhurst was interested in doing. A BITTER FIGHT. From that day to this a bitter fight has been going on to have the law changed. A society for that purpose has been formed, and on several occasions has nearly been successful in its object. The following statement, given us by the head of this society, Mr T. Paynter Allen, shows what has been so far accomplished : HOUSE OF COMMONS. This Bill has passed through all its stages in the House of Commons seven times. Altogether it has been carried in more than 70 divisions. Only once in the past twenty-three years has it been defeated. Since this solitary reverse, in 1875, there have been five divisions on the principle of the measure, which on these occasions was affirmed by an average majority of nearly 60. On four of the five occasions referred to tho House and Government were Conservative. The latest majorities of 57 and 53 are the highest ever obtained in support of this principle in a Conservative House. HOUSE OP LORDS. During the same period -that is, since 1875 there have been six divisions on tho Bill, in fivj separate sessions, in the House of Lords. In the first, which was also tho smallest of these divisions, the majority of non-clerical peers opposed to tho Bill was only 5. In all the other five divisions, had non-c'eiical peers alone voted, tho Bill would have been carried by an avtrago majority of 13. In the largest of the six divisions (the total vote in this case being 323) the Bill was absolutely carried by a majority of 7, notwithstanding the opposition of twenty-two bishops and four other clerical peers. It will be seen that there is a permanent majority (1C) in the House of Commons in favor of the Bill, but that its passage has always been defeated in the House of Lords. Mr Allen assured us that there is, even in tho House of Lords, a permanent majority for the Bill; but that this majority has never asserted itself owing to the unfortunate absence of many of its supporters at times of division. For instance, on the latest division ten peers—viz., the Duke of Conoaught and Lords Carington, Connemara, Dufferin, Gormanston, Rintorc, Lansdowne, Londonderry (Ireland), Onplow, and Reay, all of whom support the Bill, were absent holding official appointments abroad. Then there were at least forty others who were from various causes unable to be present.
ABOUT MARRIAGES., Issue 7963, 19 July 1889
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