Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Sharia, Marital Abuse and Rape

As I noted in a comment yesterday, the one big example of Sharia law allegedly coming to the United States that all the wingnuts talk about — the case in New Jersey where a state judge refused to grant a PPO for an abusive Muslim husband because his religion gave him the right to beat his wife — has been overturned by the appeals court. There are a couple of important things to note here.

First, this really had nothing to do with Sharia law. The judge did not attempt to apply any such law. It was a very narrow finding on the question of intent, with the judge concluding that because the husband had the expectation that it was okay to beat his wife and force her to have sex, he lacked any specific criminal intent. That’s a horrible, horrible ruling — but it isn’t an application of Sharia law.

Second, the problem of marital rape is hardly one unique to Islam. In this country, it was not at all unusual for marital rape to be excused by the courts. Until 1975, rape laws in the United States specifically precluded charges against a spouse. The last state to make it a crime at some level? North Carolina in 1993. And to this day, 2/3 of our states treat marital rape as less serious than rape by strangers.

In the British common law, marital rape was non-existent. From at least the early 1700s, the common law rule was that the husband “cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.” And for centuries in the West, this was largely based upon the Biblical notion that a wife must obey her husband at all times.

One study found that victims of marital rape found religious figures of the least help in reporting and surviving the effects of marital rape because such attitudes are still pervasive:

In a study of battered women, Bowker (1983) found that they ranked clergy members as the least helpful of those to whom they had turned for assistance. The emphasis of some religious institutions on wives’ responsibility “to obey their husbands” and the sinfulness of women’s refusal to have sexual intercourse with their husbands, perpetuate the problem of marital rape.

As recently as 2006, Phyllis Schlafly was ranting about “malicious feminists who have lobbied for laws that punish spousal rape just like stranger rape.” As recently as last year, a law in the Bahamas outlawing marital rape was hugely controversial in that country — and opposition was based on the Bible, not the Quran.

The bill, which is designed to outlaw marital rape, was tabled in the House of Assembly last month.

However, many Bahamian men, like taxi driver Pemmie Sutherland, say the bill is “simply unnecessary.”

“It is ridiculous for them to try to make that a law, because I don’t think a man can rape his own wife. After two people get married, the Bible says that they become one – one flesh. How is it possible to rape what is yours?” asked Mr. Sutherland.

Elvis Russell told the Journal that he does not support the bill either because there is no such thing as rape within a marriage.

“Even if a woman says no to her husband it still can’t be considered rape because she is his wife. He already paid his dues at the church and she already said ‘I do,’ so from then on, even if [a man] forces sex on his wife, it isn’t rape,” he said.

So let’s stop the pretense that this is a problem unique to Islam; Christianity has historically had the same problem and still does in certain subsets.

Lastly, let’s recognize that this horrible ruling was overturned by the appeals court, which concluded that the lower court judge had abused his power. And it was not a close call. So the notion that this case means that “Sharia law is already here,” as claimed by the AFA’s Bryan Fischer, is simply idiotic (and even more so coming from Fischer, who wants gays to be thrown in jail and forced to undergo anti-gay reparation “therapy” — which is close enough to Sharia law that it makes him a fellow traveler).