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Minimizing MarriageMarriage, Morality, and the Law$
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Elizabeth Brake

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199774142

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199774142.001.0001

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The Marriage Promise

The Marriage Promise

Is Divorce Promise-Breaking?

(p.23) 1 The Marriage Promise
Minimizing Marriage

Elizabeth Brake

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the marriage promise. What do spouses promise, and under what conditions might they be excused from this promise? The answers to these questions have implications for the morality of divorce, as well as sexual exclusivity and other marital obligations. Here I emphasize the diversity of marriages, arguing that the promise made in marriage depends on spouses’ intentions – but not all intentions are promises. A vow sometimes taken as central to marriage – to love, honor, and cherish – is not a possible subject of promise at all. Likewise, promises to take on spousal roles presuppose a robust and shared understanding of the moral content of that role – something many modern spouses may lack. Many wedding vows are thus not promises but failed attempts at promising. This casts doubt upon the idea that the distinctive moral significance of marriage is promissory.

Keywords:   marriage, promise, obligation, wedding vows, divorce, spousal roles, role obligations, love, promises to love, duties

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