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Formal Law on Coverture

I was vaguely surprised to find that Coverture was still used in the wording of Section 519.02; after all, it's effectiveness and use as a legal term has effectively been nullified with section 519.01 (which allows women to have a separate economic existence). The reason coverture is still used, in my opinion, is as a throwback to older terms that lawmakers are loathe to let go of. Should the word coverture be removed, then?

In my opinion, it should; even if it has no legal effect, it is still a shameful reminder of America's historic inequality to women. By removing it, the formalization of human rights for women can be formalized, and a legal error can e removed from the law books.

Blog 13

I was very shocked to find the word coverture in the current women's property statute of Minnesota; I thought coverture was dead. As we have learned in class, coverture is when a husband and wife are considered one and the wife is covered by her husband's legal identity. The wife does not have any legal rights. While Section 519.02 uses the word coverture in its description of women's property rights, Section 519.01 says that women have a legal identity entirely separate from their husbands. Section 519.02 totally undermines what section 519.01 says just by including the word coverture in its language. Section 519.02 takes away the rights that Section 519.01 grants women. The use of the word coverture implies that wives do not have legal rights separate from their husband. What section are we supposed to look at when they totally contradict each other? I am not sure whether the existence of the word coverture in the section is a mere oversight or if it was left there on purpose, but either way this word's existence holds great significance because of the history surrounding it and because of its negative connotations for women.

Coverture Letter

Sarah Anderson
217 State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55155

5050 Holly Lane N. No. 5
Plymouth, MN 55446

Dear Representative Anderson,

I am a constituent of district 43A and a fellow resident of Plymouth, and I am writing to express my concern regarding what I consider archaic wording in Minnesota State Statute 519.02. This statute, which deals with women's property rights, states that:
"All property, real, personal and mixed, and all choses in action, owned by any woman at the time of her marriage, shall continue to be her separate property, notwithstanding such marriage; and any married woman, during coverture, may receive, acquire, and enjoy property of every description, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, and all avails of her contacts and industry, free from the control of her husband, and from any liability on account of his debts, as fully as if she were unmarried."

My problem with this statute is its use of the phrase "during coverture". Coverture is "the inclusion of a woman in the legal person of her husband upon marriage under common law," according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary of Law. Using such a term creates confusion in light of Minnesota State Statute 519.01, which articulates that women maintain an independent "legal existence and legal personality" upon marriage, explicitly ending the practice of coverture. The two statutes appear to be in contradiction because of this wording, and the simple act of removing the phrase "during coverture" would serve to greatly clarify the intent of the law.

In addition to the logical problem of retaining contradictory wording within a statute, I also find the use of the term coverture problematic because of its lengthy history in opposing greater legal freedom for women. It was regularly employed to prevent a woman from owning property, pursuing education against her husband's wishes, signing legal documents, or entering into contracts. As recently as the early 1990's, opponents of laws that would provide women legal recourse in the event of marital rape drew upon the idea of coverture in their arguments.

Therefore I am asking you to propose that the Minnesota Office of the Reviser of Statutes directs a renewed focus upon this section and studies the societal implications maintained by the use of "coverture", as well as its logical inconsistency with State Statute 519.01.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Kelly E. Heitz

blog 13 : coverture

To whom it may concern,

Minnesota Statutes, Section 519.02. states,

All property, real, personal, and mixed, and all choses in action, owned by any woman at the time of her marriage, shall continue to be her separate property, notwithstanding such marriage; and any married woman, during coverture, may receive, acquire, and enjoy property of every description, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, and all avails of her contracts and industry, free from the control of her husband, and from any liability on account of his debts, as fully as if she were unmarried (Section 519.02)


While the purpose of this section is necessary and beneficial to women, the term "coverture" does not belong here. Coverture has been legally dismissed as a condition of marriage, as demonstrated in Section 519.02., and the retention of this term simply reinforces coverture as a condition of women under marriage. It is not a meaningless slip-up which does not deserve revision, it is a fundamental condition of women's justice. There is no place for this word in the context of women's rights today.

This language sets up the notion that in fact, coverture is not gone, but rather modified with the conditions of Section 519.02. Not only is this unconstitutional and corrupt, it is contradictory to Section 519.01, which distinguishes the legal existence of women.

Coverture in this context becomes a part of marriage. It is not enough to simply claim that this terminology is outdated - it still retains it's meaning. Just because the law is a historical part of the US, doesn't mean that sexist implications should stay in the text. And if so, why? There is no reason to keep "coverture" in the legal statutes that we operate on every day. Statutes are to be of use, and if the word is irrelevant and mute, it should be taken out. If it is not irrelevant and mute, then there are greater issues at hand. It should be absolutely no harm to remove this disgusting language from Minnesota Statute Section 519.02.

Sincerely,
Kelly Bellin

Blog 13: For the Retention

I caution against a request for a removal of the word coverture in our legislature. Circumstantial relevance compels me to state my allegiance as William's equality-staring game comes to mind (12). In starting out with the idea that "Feminism should be Humanism," my perception of my association with Feminism after reading MacKinnon has shifted from nemesis to diplomat, and from diplomat to that of dual-citizen. I wish to acknowledge that when one from the class in power embraces ideas or lifestyles of the lesser class in the realm of gender, they are usually ridiculed and the (lack of) ethos can give male arguments less weight. While I don't plan on exceeding or equaling the potential of the lesser class in poignancy within the embracement of femininity, I hope to avoid a quick dismissal based on the circumstances of sex and demeanor.

I'm inclined towards inaction mostly out of humor and in reaction to philosophical influences, but I did consider the politic "high ground," and I slightly reject the idea that we should keep the law on the sole basis that it's merely a word and that it's not that big of a deal. I hesitate to draw parallels of a slippery slope, but a poem posted on campus somewhere and the future of Ireland's internet censorship comes to mind. Ireland lives in a culture where laws are more customs than actual laws, where there a gay bar was known to exist during a period when overt homosexuality is illegal. However, now it seems the sedentary attitude of Ireland's residents with respect to law can lead to censorship on the internet similar to what's in the UK and Australia, and, in more extreme of examples, of Saudi Arabia and China.

The word should be retained, or at least not much effort should be put in removing it, for the purposes of consciousness raising in a historical sense. My History of Law professor related a funny story to class a couple weeks ago about how, as a historian, she had felt guilty for removing a clause in the deed of her house in St Paul. The house and the houses neighboring it had a clause in the deeds that stated that blacks or other minorities couldn't own or rent these houses. She felt bad because she knew that sometime in the future, some historian would have to spend hours figuring out why there was this one peculiar house wasn't as racist as the other ones, and it's not like she can add another clause stating she didn't want nonwhites obtaining the deed. While slippery slope parallels can be drawn to examples of the poem or of the inaction of Ireland's residents, the matter of the word coverture is different in that the meaning of the legislature is in principle contradictory to the legal definition of coverture, as outside of the use of the word, the rest of the legislature is clear enough.

Another reason for relative inaction would be for consciousness raising in a societal sphere. Suppose that coverture in this sense is used as a societal rather than legal term. Blackstone describes coverture as being "under the protection and influence of her husband." If we take coverture to have cultural meaning rather than legal, like the wife taking on the husband's name even though she doesn't have to, the word makes more sense, especially when looking all three instances of the use of the word in this section of legislature. I'm reluctant to believe that legislators had a cultural meaning in mind rather than it being a mistake that slipped by as the law was being updated, but there is a useful meaning in this oversight: even if legally a wife has rights to her autonomy, socially, she is still under coverture.

Blog 13

Congresswoman Betty McCollum
Minnesota 4th District
165 Western Ave North
Suite 17
St. Paul, MN 55102


Dear Congresswoman Betty McCollum,

I am writing in regards to wording that I feel is contradictory in Minnesota State Statute 519.02. This statute describes women's property rights according to state law and is worded as such:
"All property, real, personal and mixed, and all choses in action, owned by any woman at the time of her marriage, shall continue to be her separate property, notwithstanding such marriage; and any married woman, during coverture, may receive, acquire, and enjoy property of every description, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, and all avails of her contacts and industry, free from the control of her husband, and from any liability on account of his debts, as fully as if she were unmarried."

I am bringing attention to the "during coverture" portion of this law. In regards to women's property rights, wives could not control their own property unless specific provisions were made before marriage, they could not file lawsuits or be sued separately, nor could they execute contracts. The husband could use, sell or dispose of her property (again, unless prior provisions were made) without her permission.

As I stated previously, the law seems contradictory with this being included in it's wording. I am requesting that this be revised with the exclusion of the statement of "during coverture." The law would then be non-contradicting in it's message according to the rights women have to property in Minnesota.

Sincerely,

Michele Hauwiller

Blog 13

The problematic part of this Act concerns the word "coverture". Coverture, in this context, is upsetting because it refers to old common law where once a woman was married, she loses all legal rights to her husband. In a country supposedly founded on equality, the use of this word is both sexist and oppressive. It is also contradictory. In Minnesota law, ยง519.01 says that a women's property, of any kind, is legally, separately hers. The usage of the word coverture, then, negates those freedoms that were denied for hundreds of years. Furthermore, this contractual language, as described by Patricia Williams, "Masterfully disguised the brutality of enforced arrangements in which these women's autonomy, their flesh and blood, were locked away in word vaults, without room to reconsider (Williams, p. 15, 1988)."
While the seemingly irrelevant rhetoric may not seem worthy of assessment; the word coverture carries meaning that undermines women's legal rights. The Act says that any woman "during coverture" is legally free from her husband. Common Law as cited by Blackstone, says, "By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law." Even though this Act declares a woman legally free from her husband, the word coverture brings to the surface a sentiment that reflects the persistent view of women's lesser value in society.
The paradoxical phrasing is an example of what Frances Olsen refers to as, "False equality," that is, equality on the outside. Until the assessment of the continued use of the word coverture is thoroughly evaluated, women's rights will continue to be undermined by powerful rhetoric.

Week 13: Letter

To Whom It May Concern,
I am writing you today in regards to Section 519.02 of the Minnesota Statutes. In this section it states,

All property, real, personal, and mixed, and all choses in action, owned by any woman at the time of her marriage, shall continue to be her separate property, notwithstanding such marriage; and any married woman, during coverture, may receive, acquire, and enjoy property of every description, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, and all avails of her contracts and industry, free from the control of her husband, and from any liability on account of his debts, as fully as if she were unmarried (Section 519.02).

As I was reading this, the word that practically jumped off the page was the word "coverture." I do not understand why this word is still used in the Minnesota Statutes in regards to a married women's property. Coverture has a dark history in America, specifically for the women who lost their identity under the universal use of this word. A member of the Mississippi bar, Lena Zama, states, "Under the old English common law, when a man and woman married, they became one, and he was the one" (Zama 28). The word coverture denotes a continuation of English laws whose purpose was to shift all legal power (including property) to the patriarchal position. This, of course, is beyond sexist, but is also majorly problematic placing all the power within the husband's, or "the one['s]" hands. This denies a basic right of an American citizen, the right to own and govern their property that is rightfully theirs.

My using "coverture" in this section not only distracts many when reading the statutes, but also implies that we as a nation and independent legal entity have not moved on from these ancient, sexist institutions. What is even more confusing is that in Section 519.01 it states, "Women shall retain the same legal existence and legal personality after marriage as before, and every married woman shall receive the same protection of all her rights as a woman which her husband does as a man, including the right to appeal to the courts in her own name alone for protection or redress" (Section 519.02). This section that comes right before the section that uses the word "coverture" further complicates this issue. Section 519.01 uses the words "retain, "legal existence," and "legal personality" when referring to women and property. These words denote independence and a lack of coverture in current marriage property acts and statutes. By following this section with the word "coverture" simply destroys the truth in Section 519.01.

I purpose that the Minnesota Office of the Reviser of Statutes takes a new fresh look at this section and studies the societal implications that the word coverture still has. As I states before, this word has a history in the repression of women and a basis in complete contradictions within the legal relationships between men and women. This word must be stripped from this section in order for the statutes to be completely clear and rid of residual sexism in our legal documents. Please take these points into account and reexamine the word coverture in Section 519.02. Thank you.

Week 13 Blog Assignment

As we discussed in class on Thursday, Section 519.02 of the Minnesota Statutes describes the property rights of married women "during coverture," retaining the wording of Minnesota's 1869 Married Women's property Act. Yet Section 519.01 explicitly states that a married woman has a full legal existence distinct from her husband. So why does 519.02 retain the word coverture?

For this week's blog post, I would like you to consider whether this retention of coverture in Minnesota law has meaning and effect. If you choose, you may write your blog post in the form of a letter to an appropriate member of Minnesota's government to argue for the removal of the reference to coverture. Be specific in your post; support your argument with references to readings from the course. You may want to refer to the website for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes for information on how bills and statutes are written in Minnesota.