St. John’s Colloquium in Law and Religion Hosts Robin Fretwell Wilson

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On Tuesday, February 16, St. John’s Law and Religion Colloquium welcomed Professor Robin Fretwell Wilson. Professor Wilson, who was instrumental in bringing about the so-called “Utah compromise,” gave a very interesting talk about proposals from various perspectives to privatize marriage. The paper, “Getting Government out of marriage” Post Obergefell: The Ill-Considered Consequences of Transforming the State’s Relationship to Marriage,” argued that that these proposals are unwise as a policy matter for a variety of reasons.

Oman on Islamic Marriage Contracts and the Common Law

Nate Oman has posted a thoughtful piece, How to Judge Shari’a Contracts: A Guide to Islamic Marriage Agreements in American Courts.  The abstract follows.

This Article thus has two goals. The first is to show how the Muslim conception of marriage diverges from the Christian-influenced norms that dominate American law and society. Understanding this divergence provides a necessary background to Islamic mahr contracts. The second goal is to provide lawyers and judges with a doctrinal framework within our current law for analyzing these contracts and reaching sensible results in concrete cases.

The remainder of this Article will proceed as follows: Part II provides an introduction to Islamic law in general, and the law of marriage and divorce in particular, as well as some discussion of how these rules function in practice. Part III summarizes the way in which American courts have dealt with mahr contracts, showing how both husbands and wives seek to deploy arguments based on contract law, the law of premarital agreements, and constitutional law. Part IV provides a framework for analyzing mahr contracts. It argues that such contracts are best dealt with using traditional contract doctrines. Indeed, once the meaning of mahr contracts are properly understood, this Article argues that the common law of contracts is capable of dealing with potential problems presented by mahr contracts without any dramatic legal innovations.

Spencer on the Mahr as Contract

Katherine Spencer (Harvard University) has posted Mahr as Contract: Internal Pluralism and External Perspectives. The abstract follows. —YAH

This paper examines the Islamic legal doctrine of mahr- an inherent component to the marriage contract. In the first part the principal aspects of the marriage contract are analyzed and the pluralism between Islamic schools and geo-political regimes are acknowledged. In the second part the ‘mahr’ itself is specifically considered, noting the difficulties for Western scholars in conceptualizing and categorizing a provision that has no equivalent in Judeo-Christian marriage. The third part looks at the ways in which US and UK courts have categorized the mahr as a contract, or a term within a contract and yet have reached different conclusions on its enforceability. This produces inconsistent and sometimes unfair results and begs the question whether the recognition of Islamic family law by ‘Western’ courts is inherently problematic. In the final section I attempt to answer some of those larger questions and conclude with the view that giving effect to mahr agreements as enforceable personal rights is judicially feasible – with the proviso however that in circumstances of profound unfairness and where contrary to public policy courts maintain the discretion to render such contracts unenforceable.

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