Cultural movements—both good and bad—almost always can trace their ultimate success or failure to a “tipping point” moment. Sometimes these moments are obvious and celebrated, and in some cases they can be more hidden or obscure.
Writing for First Things’ On the Square about the dissolution of marriage, attorney Wesley J. Smith points his finger at famous actor Lee Marvin for one of those more obscure moments…well, sort of.
Smith poses the question: “How did marriage lose most of its meaning?” And his answer is the infamous 1976 California Supreme Court case Marvin v. Marvin.
The case was precedent setting because Michele Triola Marvin sued Lee Marvin, claiming breach of contract because he had assured her of “life-long support,” but instead broke up with her. The couple had never married, but had lived together for many years and she had legally changed her last name to Marvin. The suit was dismissed by the trial court, but surprisingly was taken up on appeal by the state’s Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Michelle Marvin, “sparked the long march that institutionalized the sexual revolution, transforming what might have been a transitory cultural phenomenon—akin to the Roaring Twenties—into a remade legal and social order.”
Smith also points out, “the Court half-heartedly tried to refill what it had just hollowed-out.” The ruling stated, “Lest we be misunderstood, however, we take this occasion to point out that the structure of society itself largely depends upon the institution of marriage, and nothing we have said in this opinion should be taken to derogate from that institution.”
Despite the courts attempt to sugarcoat their actions, the decision cleared the way for the slow, but sure denigration of marriage by equating virtually any form of cohabitating with the institution of marriage.
You can read Smith’s full article, The Case That Destroyed Marriage, here.