After the Supreme Court struck down the legal right to an abortion in June, conservatives have turned their attention to other fundamental freedoms like same-sex marriage and access to contraception.
A distinct, long-dormant aim, however, is being revived by those on the right: stigmatizing divorce, sometimes even by criticizing no-fault divorce laws. The first no-fault divorce law in the United States was passed in California in 1969, while New York was the final state to adopt one, doing so in 2010.
Although state laws vary, generally speaking, a no-fault divorce means that one person can end a marriage without first having to establish the other partner’s guilt, including infidelity, abuse, or desertion.
In statements to high school students in southern California last September, Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance supported the notion of remaining in abusive marriages.
According to Vice, which broke the story first, Vance claimed that by abandoning marriages that were “maybe even violent,” it was “making it easier for people to shift partners like they change their underwear,” which had a bad impact on the kids.
Despite the fact that Vance’s remarks were made before Roe v. Wade was overturned, they have gained fresh relevance in light of the right movement’s perception that it is now possible to achieve previously unattainable goals. And in the right-wing media, Vance is not alone.
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In a clip from his show, reactionary YouTuber Tim Pool talked about no-fault divorce laws and said that they had “DESTROYED men’s confidence in marriage, men don’t want to get married anymore.”
The focus of the conversation turned to how no-fault divorce laws were to blame for what the panel saw to be an increase in prenuptial agreements, which transitioned into a digressive conversation criticizing divorce in general.
People are scandalized by this opinion but wait until they find out that I also think no fault divorce should be abolished https://t.co/lRMozCvuoj
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) March 13, 2022
Pool echoed a common argument made by so-called men’s rights advocates, an anti-feminist movement, that males have structural disadvantages in family court and divorce proceedings: “The courts are extremely prejudiced in favor of women to an insane degree, especially with children.”
(While it is true that women are typically given sole custody more often than males, the reasons for this are complex and have to do with men traditionally having higher salaries and sexist attitudes about mothers being natural caregivers.)
No-fault divorce laws are discouraging young men from getting married, according to Steven Crowder, a fellow conservative YouTuber. Crowder stated that no-fault divorce rules are “a raw deal for a lot” of males in an unfocused tirade on June 24 calling for the Supreme Court to immediately reverse marriage equality rights granted in Obergefell v. Hodges.
If we really want to protect the sanctity of marriage, we'd start by abolishing no-fault divorce
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) April 7, 2015
Oh, it’s a no-fault divorce, so by the way, in many of these places if a woman cheats on you, she leaves, she receives half, said, Crowder. Therefore, it is the man’s fault and not theirs.
I’m not even referring to same-sex marriage when I say that marital laws ought to be changed. “Talking about alimony laws, talking about child support laws, talking about divorce laws.”
Crowder has made the claim previously, so it wasn’t new. He added, “It’s the only contract that I know of where one side is financially rewarded to breach it,” in reference to “no-fault divorce states” using air quotes on April 22.
“Your best path to victory is simply to marry a man, leave him, and take half,” Crowder continued. “If you’re a woman from modest means who wants to get wealthy — you’ve never worked, you didn’t get a degree, you have no skill set, but you’re good-looking — your best path to victory is to marry a man, leave him, and take half.” Later on, he highlighted the necessity for revision of the nation’s divorce rules.
Some of the fiercest anti-LGBTQ conservative speakers are also the most vocal opponents of no-fault divorce, using tradition and what they see to be a God-given natural order while upholding blatantly patriarchal power dynamics in both cases.
I actually agree with gay activists that many Christians are cowards for complaining about gay marriage but condoning rampant divorce
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) April 7, 2015
Conservatives contend that LGBTQ identities upset the fixed gender binary that underpins patriarchy’s established roles and expectations. Similar to how no-fault divorce laws dismantled patriarchal authority, freeing women from de facto subordination to males and their dependence on them.
No one better exemplifies this trend than the outspokenly anti-trans conservative pundit Matt Walsh. Walsh also argued that it should be more difficult to end marriages in his defense of Kanye West’s intimidation and threatening actions toward his estranged wife Kim Kardashian in March, who had just filed for divorce.
At least as far back as 2015, Walsh has made variations of this argument, explicitly in the context of the alleged danger that same-sex marriage posed to heterosexual couples.
An identical point was made last year by Walsh’s Daily Wire coworker Michael Knowles. “We observe the marriage deteriorating due to no-fault divorce, “Says Knowles. A pretty terrible turn of events, to put it mildly.
Do you believe that since the social and sexual upheavals of the 1960s, society has become much better? Or has it actually become a little worse?” Knowles prompted. “Are we seeing a time of ascendancy or a time of decline?”
The Knowles’ line is becoming more prevalent on the right. Dan McLaughlin, a senior writer for National Review Online, sees the liberation movements of the latter half of the 20th century as a source of social breakdown. He recently connected homosexual marriage rights and no-fault divorce as two sides of a single issue.
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Even more blatantly explicit conservatives exist. According to Katy Faust and Stacy Manning’s article in The Federalist, the right’s successful effort to overturn Roe should serve as a model for future social change initiatives. “That’s especially true for those who are still prepared to wage the matrimonial battle.”
Them Before Us, managed by Faust and Manning, calls itself “a global organization supporting children’s right to their mother and father.” In their article, they outline a hypothetical back-and-forth that activists might use to respond to inquiries like:
You must oppose divorce if you genuinely believe that families are so vital. That’s right; no-fault divorce is the primary redefinition of marriage and it has wreaked havoc on American families.
On the grounds that “children of gay couples lose maternal or paternal love and half their heritage,” the two are also against same-sex marriage.
Some on the right minimize this trend.
No-fault divorce is a sad blunder from a social-conservative standpoint, but it’s not completely obvious that the issue is high on the mainstream Right’s list of priorities. Which Republican is running on a platform of abolishing the no-fault divorce law? Nate Hochman of the National Review had this to say.
The Texas Republican Party, for instance, has a proposal in its platform for 2022 to “rescind unilateral no-fault divorce laws, support covenant marriage, and propose legislation extending the timeframe in which a divorce may occur to six months following the date of filing for divorce.”
Aspects on the right are interested in reversing marital equality and rights to contraception, as Justice Clarence Thomas made plain in his concurring opinion in the Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs decision, which overruled Roe.
We are obligated to ‘fix the wrong’ created by those precedents, “Thomas composed a piece of writing. It’s not difficult to envision a patriarchy-based movement focusing on divorce laws next.