The Old Testament: Ruth I – Property and Marriage Rights

I had a phone conversation with a good friend of mine.  We’d been disagreeing about how religion in general and the Bible specifically is used against gay people.  As a religious person who also supports gay people, she felt a bit torn.  I won’t rehash the whole discussion, but one point I made to her was that for all the laws in place, anything short of providing the same rights to gays as well as straights hinders gay people.

The issue is at the federal level, not the state level. This is why civil unions are not a good compromise. One example I gave her was the issue of inheritance.  If a couple own a home together, and having lived in it for years, have paid it off together, a problem arises if one dies before the other.  Even though both parties contributed equally to the home, for a number of foreseeable reasons, only one partner’s name might be on the title.

If this is the partner who dies, the surviving partner gets screwed.  If there’s no will, the surviving partner has no claim to the home.  If there is a will—and, let’s face it, there should be—the surviving partner can “inherit” his home.  For married people this would happen automatically—will or no.  The rub she didn’t know about: since the property is inherited, the surviving partner gets hit with a death tax (of roughly 36%) on the inherited property—the property you already paid for. What a warm and fuzzy reality to learn after you lose the love of your life.

This is the same issue Edie Windsor, an 83-year-old-widow, encountered when her partner died.  Her case is the reason the Supreme Court is hearing a case against DOMA:

Turns out property rights have always been an issue—and you thought the plot thread that sets Downtown Abbey in motion was strange.  In Ruth, though, the property inheritance rights also include marriage rights, and there’s a line that needs to be honored.  At the head of this line is the kinsman-redeemer.

Ruth tells the story of Naomi, who, along with her husband and sons, relocates from famine-stricken Judah to Moab.  There, eventually, the sons marry, and after about 10 years, along with her husband, the sons die (1:5).  Naomi decides to return to Judah, telling her two daughters-in-law to remain and move on with their lives.  Ruth refuses and accompanies Naomi.

While trying to get by in Judah, Ruth—as was apparently common back then—works a field for the remnants of a harvest.  The field’s owner, Boaz, is a distant relative of Naomi.  After a short series of events, he falls for Ruth; however, due to a strange inheritance law involving Naomi’s husband’s land, Boaz does not have first dibs on Ruth—he must clear this with the first in line for inheritance, the kinsman redeemer (3:2).

I’m unclear how being obligated to the widow of the land ties you also to the former daughter-in-law, but this all gets worked out. It’s handled in a fun, happy, everything-works-out-in-the-end kind of way. But it’s hard not to think of an end-of-game Monopoly transaction, where one player lands on a high-rent, loaded with a hotel property, and has to devise a complicated trade involving all the railroads and string of yellow properties to cover the debt.

Their story ends like a sweet Disney movie, with Naomi becoming the grandmother to their child, a son who begins the line that will one day lead to David (as in David and Goliath).

In general, this book is a touching story of family loyalty.  And, thankfully, the laws that dictate inheritance worked out well for both parties.  If only things nowadays worked out so smoothly.

The Book Samuel 1 up next.  The first book (apparently) to be split. Did people lose their attention spans between Genesis and Samuel 1?

About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: Follow his work at:
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1 Response to The Old Testament: Ruth I – Property and Marriage Rights

  1. Bob Windhauser says:

    Brad, Good Blog. Dad

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