11 NOVEMBER 1922, Page 33


WHEN Mrs. Rutherford had her appeal for a divorce from her husband rejected on Friday, November 3rd, the case gave Lord Birkenhead the opportunity of delivering a memorable judgment. It - will, we hope, prove to be a milestone on the road which is inevitably leading to more humane, and we would add more Christian, Marriage Laws in this country.

Colonel Rutherford,- it will be remembered, was found guilty of the murder of Major Setoff, but, as the doctors pronounced him to be insane, he is now in Broadinoor Prison for criminal lunatics. To this man Mrs. Rutherford is tied for life, though neither of them is old. There is no hope for her unless the law be altered. " It is unfor- tunate," said Lord Birkenhead in a moving passage, " that she should thus be tied for life to a dangerous and homicidal lunatic, after having for many years suffered both in body and spirit from his unfaithfulness and cruelty. . . . She must look forward to a loneliness from which she can escape only by a violation of the moral law. To some this may appear a harsh and even inhuman result, but such, my lords, is the law of England. It rests with Parliament to end a state of things which, in a civilized community and in the name of morality, imposes such intolerable hardships upon innocent men and women."

We appreciate the fact that when proposals are made for the reform of the Marriage Laws the scruples of earnest people who believe that all release from the marriage bond, save possibly for the cause of adultery, is forbidden by Christianity are the scruples which we should be most careful to meet. For our part, however—accepting as our authority the conclusions of a growing number of theological scholars the sincerity of whose Christianity is not doubted—we believe that the teaching of Christianity has traditionally been represented to be what really it was not. We cannot go into this very large question now, though we may advise anyone who has not read Dr. Charles's book, :The Teaching of the New Testament on Divorce—to Mention only one good example of this type of literature —to do so as soon as possible. Assuming, then, that Christianity does not require the perpetuation of unions which not only entail cruel suffering but are in them- selves an incentive to violations of the moral law, ive would say that no cases are in more urgent need of immediate relief than those in which the suffering has in no sense been brought upon the victims by filch own fault. Such a case is that of Mrs. Rutherford.

From first to last there has been no suggestion that the brutality and crime of her husband were brought about or provoked by her. She is a purely innocent . victim. Everything that has happened has been entirely beyond her control. Decent people may well hesitate to consent to any change in the law which would mean " divorce at will "—divorce from caprice, indifference, selfishness or wantonness. But here is a case where the State itself steps in and decrees a divorce in practice though not in name. As a matter of common safety it puts the husband permanently away. Yet it requires the woman to consider herself still married to the man whom in all human probability she will not see again. Surely everyone who accepts the spirit of Christiainty rather than the letter—and not even the letter, for our law has been based on a doubtful interpretation of the letter—should abate their scruples about allowing legal divorce where the State has by its own act imposed practical divorce.

We sincerely agree with a remark which we read in the Westminster Gazette that if the Church declares her wish to continue to enforce suffering upon such innocent persons as Mrs. Rutherford, it approaches more closely than most people would care to admit to the torture inflicted in the name of religion in generations which we all admit to have been intolerant and benighted.