a few other groups forbade all sexual relations, relying on conversion to gain new members. The 'Immortalists' in New England, led by Sarah Prentice, held that conversion had made them bodily incorruptible and that marriage was a spiritual union over which civil authorities should have no control.
Ideas such as these horrified most Protestant authorities (and Catholic, for that matter), who regarded male-headed households, in which men controlled their wives, children, and servants, as structures established by God, and believed that church and state should act together to enforce morality and order. Except during brief periods such as the English Civil War or the French Revolution, every state in Europe had an officially established church. In some parts of Europe, including most Catholic states along with England and Scotland, church courts were officially independent of state control, with their own judges and legal codes. In others, including most Lutheran areas, they were part of the state government, with their policies and procedures established as part of national or territorial law codes. Though they thus differed in their level of state control (and in some areas this level of control was contested), church courts did not differ significantly from secular authorities in their attitudes towards marriage, morals, and sexual issues. In most Protestant and some Catholic areas, parental consent was required for marriage, even if the spouses were adults. Laws regulating marriage and morals were issued more frequently, with stern admonitions about their enforcement, and investigations were held questioning pastors and lay people about their ideas and conduct.
In England divorce was only possible by act of parliament, but Protestants in some parts of Europe and European colonies did allow divorce for adultery and impotence, and sometimes for contracting a contagious disease, malicious desertion, conviction for a capital crime, or deadly assault. This dramatic change in marital law had less than dramatic results, however, at least judging by sheer numbers. In contrast to today, when divorce is a large part of all civil legal procedures, Protestant marriage courts heard very few divorce cases, because marriage was the economic and social foundation of society. The vast majority of cases involving sexual conduct actually heard by Protestant church courts in Europe and lower courts in New England were for premarital intercourse, usually termed fornication, which became evident when a woman showed signs of pregnancy. Along with punishing those found guilty of fornication, Protestant authorities also attempted to restrict occasions which they increasingly viewed as sources of sexual temptation, such as parish festivals, spinning bees, and dances. Sodomy was generally a capital crime, though the number of actual sodomy cases was very small. The
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