Many parties have taken part in the historical reconstruction of the Swedish family-spiritual leaders of the church, intellectual rebels, popular movements, and politicians, to mention but a few. They have talked in many voices and their messages have often been polarized and misinterpreted, since the issue is a complex and controversial one. However, this nineteenth century debate is suprisingly up to date in its concerns about the gender relationship.
The church's wedding ritual reflects several key issues. Throughout the centuries, there has been controversy about the conditions for a valid marriage. Is the couple's declared mutual consent worthy of being recognized or do they need the confirmation of the church to be acknowledged as husband and wife? (Holte n.d.). According to an older pre-Christian view, marriage was more a matter for the family than for society. It was living together that constituted the marriage. The church wedding came as confirmation afterwards. In certain regions and especially in northern Sweden, people maintained this custom until railway workers and other outsiders broke down community control of courtship. Thus, popular morality clashed with the church's guardianship of marital legitimacy.
Since the 1960s, nearly all Christian churches have declared consensus to be the decisive matter. According to the modern Christian view, consensus consists of three essential elements: voluntariness, reciprocity, and equality (or equal value). Those values are underlined in the Swedish ritual in which the bride and groom enter the church side by side and take each other's hands. England and the U.S. follow a tradition by which the bride is brought to the church by her father and is entrusted by him to the groom, thus making the marriage appear more like a contract between father and son-in-law (Holte n.d.).
As early as 1811, all patriarchal wording in the Swedish wedding ritual was abolished. While the bride in England and the U.S. promised to obey and serve her husband, the promises the parties give each other in the Swedish ritual were equal and reciprocal. It is worth noting that these symbolic changes in the wedding ritual were accomplished before the Swedish parliament enacted its reforms promoting gender equality, reforms that began in the the mid-nineteenth century.
While the Christian view was normative and expressed an ideal that was far removed from prevailing social conditions, the author August Strindberg revealed the misery of marital life and explored its causes in Giftas, two volumes about marital relationships that were written in the 1880s.
Imagine two people of opposite sexes who make a careless promise of lifelong commitment. This is an unreasonable basis for marriage. One of them develops in one direction, the other in another. One remains on the spot, while the other moves on. They are doomed to drift apart. Taking into account men's inclinations towards polygamy, it becomes even more astonishing that many mar