Thursday, June 17, 2010


It’s Wedding Month! In the U.S. alone, 2.3 million couples “tie the knot” every year. Only one out of five adults never marries. From the time of Adam and Eve, the marital relationship between a man and a woman has been ordained by God. However, some things have changed!

Consider that 84 % of Christians marry or that 80% of weddings are performed in churches or synagogues, yet 33 % of these “unions” end in divorce. Something is drastically wrong! Although there are many facets of marriage that need to be addressed, I would like to ponder the concept of marriage licenses.

A little research reveals that marriage has not always required validation by the state or the church. In fact, a marriage license from the county office of the land of Eden wasn’t necessary for Adam and Eve! During the Roman Empire, if a couple regarded each other as husband and wife, the marriage was valid. In fact, for most of Western history, marriage was a private contract between two families.

Even Christianity,
for 1,600 years
defined the validity of a marriage
a couple's personal intentions!

Up to the mid-19th century, states ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage. In fact, it is widely recognized that even George and Martha Washington were married without a license! Today, these couples would be labeled as “living in sin”! Yet, during all these centuries, couples remained together much more consistently than today.

In 1923, the Federal Government established the Uniform Marriage and Marriage License Act. By 1929, every state in the Union had adopted marriage license laws attempting to make marriage an institution. Obviously, all these laws have not helped to stabilize marriages.

Is marriage:
a spiritual union
a man-made institution,

a right granted by God to His children
a “privilege” controlled by the state?

Black's Law Dictionary defines "license" as, "The permission by competent authority to do an act which without such permission [...] would be illegal. If such permission is required for God’s children, were their marriages prior to the 1900s illicit?

As Citizens of His kingdom, it was God who brought Eve to Adam [Genesis 2:22]. In Hebrew culture, only God’s presence is the necessary legal power to the union. It is God who joins together a husband and wife [Malachi 2:14, 15; Matthew 19:6]. It was and is His authority alone that rules marital covenants. The intervention of another party has never been required.

Yet, listen to the introductory words of a traditional wedding ceremony, “We are gathered together here in the sight of God – and in the face of this company – to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony…” At the end of the ceremony, the “minister” announces, “And now – through me – He [God] joins you together in one of the holiest bonds.”

Many people who make no claim to be Christian obtain a “license”, arrive at a basilica and pay a man to proclaim “you are now joined together.” Are they “one” in God’s sight? I always wondered why Adam blamed God for his marital problems! Maybe it was because God didn’t invite a clergyman to “do” their wedding!

Although it is understood that Christians are admonished to keep all the laws of men, what do civil laws really say about the necessity of obtaining the courts permission and a “qualified” person to solemnize a marriage? Is marriage without a license “illegal” as the laws seem to imply? According to my research thus far, many, if not all states have a similar disclaimer as this one in Iowa,

The provisions of this chapter, as they relate to procuring
licenses and to the solemnizing of marriages are not applicable to members of a denomination having an unusual mode of entering the marriage relation.

Considering that one-third of all “marriages” end in divorce, perhaps Christians need to return to being “a denomination having an unusual mode” which trusts God to decide which marital covenants He deems legitimate.


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