It is entirely possible, in my view, that a complete, whole, sacred marriage exists in a couple that, so far as the public knows is shacking up or living in “sin.”
IMPORTANT! See the 2006 update, More on Marriage.

A marriage is, by one description, the union of a man and a woman under a pledge of love and fealty.

Early humans naturally banded together for protection and for some economy in the use of resources. It was an instinctive leaning toward what would eventually deserve to be called culture. We can only guess when, among early humans or their progenitors, it became the norm for a man to possess an individual woman for longer than it took to copulate.

I suspect that it was a woman and not a man who first made some insistence on a prolonged relationship. Nevertheless, whether you assume we emerged from the mists of an evolutionary past or from the world according to creationists, by the time we arrive at the sons of Adam, the Bible tells us there were other people in the world (not children of Adam and Eve) from whom Cain selected a wife. (Incidentally, some religious traditions say we’re all “sons of Adam,” that is, we’re all descended from Adam and Eve. To them, I insist: explain where Cain’s wife in Genesis 4:17 came from, not to mention the cities that had sprung up. I know, the "Book of Jubilees" posits that Eve had several more children, and Cain's wife was his sister - either the daughter of Eve or the daughter of one of Adam's other daughters. But was Adam the father of whole cities...?)

Marriage is, (1), a personal commitment between a man and a woman. Historically it occurred more often between a boy and a girl, as we now define the age when one becomes fertile. For most of the history of mankind, and in much of the world even now, the norm has been: When those two children can themselves make babies and when the boy has at least a slim chance to provide for and defend a wife, they’re ready to take it on. (When speaking of the USA, it’s bad form to use those “sexist” terms, so I repeat: For most of the history of mankind, and in much of the world even now, that’s the way it has been.)

Before there were civil requirements and religious sacraments, there was marriage. Puberty provided the hormones and the first member of the opposite gender to show some interest became a likely candidate for a spouse. Before there was a church to sanction it, civil authority to regulate it, stratified society to restrict whom you could marry, and elaborate family traditions to actually choose for you, there was a simple, primitive commitment between two individuals.

Did God disapprove such unions, just because there was no government to tax it or church to officiate over it? I don’t think so. And what has God added for requirements since then that weren’t already inherent in the situation? Only the expectation that the couple acknowledge their Creator.

This is an especially-important conclusion for those couples who must divorce in order to avoid government-driven financial penalties for remaining married: Even today, I submit, a man and a woman can pledge themselves to one another under God and that alone is sufficient to God to constitute a marriage. (This also assumes no previous and as-yet un-dissolved marriage on the part of either of them.) Can a person who is already married by the church or by the state, but whose marriage is a non-marriage in the eyes of God, just abandon or ignore that civil spouse and join with another under God? Would God approve, even if the church or state did not? The situation could be complex, and there is no absolute answer.

Marriage is, (2), a sacrament. The first marriage mentioned in the Bible, (Cain’s), evidently took place without the benefit of a rabbinical blessing. How could there have been a Jewish church just yet, when, after Cain killed Abel and before he took a wife, there were only three humans? Cain left Eden, went to Nod, east of Eden, and - mirabile dictu! - found a woman and took her as a wife. Then there were suddenly cities for Cain to live in! All those instant people in Genesis, but still no mention of a civil authority.

I recall being told, in my childhood, that we are all descended from Adam and Eve. But with a city full of people for Cain and his wife to go live in, I must assume that those people were not all Eve's children. (And that Cain did not marry his sister - and under whose authority and through what sacrament did Cain "take a wife"? I am not making fun of anyone's faith here, but merely pointing out that the creation story is more compatible with science than some King James fundamentalists are willing to admit.)

Eventually, though, the church inserted itself between man and his God and insisted upon interceding in each marriage in order to confer God’s blessing. I rather think God was blessing marriages before the church decided to make a monopoly of it.

In some denominations, chiefly those still rooted in the Greek and Roman traditions, marriage is still referred to as a sacrament. (The Episcopal churches recognize a fixed number of sacraments, such as baptism, marriage, ordination, burial, and, as I recall, unction.) If you haven’t undergone the sacrament of marriage in a church, the churches unanimously insist that you aren’t truly married under God. If you marry on the premise in (1) above, that’s not good enough for most churches. They have a hard enough time grudgingly accepting one another’s authority on letting God bless a marriage, much less letting God do it himself without an intermediary!

I actually find some comfort in the marriage sacrament as administered by most churches. While I can accept marriage as sacred even if it comes about without a ceremony of any kind, so long as the couple has in their own view committed to one another in the eyes of God, I find a church ceremony more reassuring. For one thing, it provides a public forum for a man and a woman to pledge themselves to one another. It somewhat assures community recognition and support of the union. And, to the extent one is willing to accept the divine authority vested in the priest or pastor, the church sacrament is a comforting seal of God’s participation in the marriage.

For many centuries, especially throughout Europe, the Christian (Roman, Greek) church dominated, even conferred, civil authority. So a marriage in the church required no further blessing of the town government.

Marriage is, (3), support for lawyers. Once church and state became separated in the USA, marriage was possible without the church. A civil ceremony was born. A Justice of the Peace could preside. A town office could record the deed. Modern couples intent upon avoiding God nevertheless still like the trappings of a religious ceremony and so retain verbiage that sounds “traditional” but is cleansed of too much God stuff. Since it’s one of the most joyous (and best-attended) occasions in a church, churches find it an irresistible opportunity to inject a worship service, even though the language of the church ceremony is rich with praise-God phrases and other stuff that makes the crowd uncomfortable. The civil ceremony allows you to mimic the church’s great occasion but not make yourselves or the guests uncomfortable thinking about God.

But there has to be some accountability in a secular marriage. A vow has to be made so that, if it’s broken, the courts can punish. Government doesn’t discourage divorce, because it’s good for lawyers (and lawyers control government). Therefore accountability is defined, not in terms of loyalty and love as it is in the church, but in financial terms, so that lawyers can assess their fees.

With the separation of church and state, there are now both church-dictated consequences and civil consequences for dissolving a marriage. (These in addition to the social consequences and personal devastation for the people involved.)

Marriage is, (4), change and challenge. When a marriage comes crashing down, some reflection is due. If the couple pledged all things to one another, did they do so under God or just under government? If they pledged under God, which is what matters, did they really mean it at the time? Did they both pledge but only one mean it? Did they even speak words of commitment (vows), or did they just start living together and trust that God was approving? Ceremony or not, was it a true marriage? Is its dissolution an offense to God or merely an offense to those immediately affected (children, parents, friends, each other)?

When a husband or wife has lost interest in the other, what is left? Is it still a marriage? The law says so. The church says so. What does God think? And besides the spectacularly understated phrases “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,” what advice is given the youthful couple about adapting to each other’s changing needs over time? None. The things that drove them together as little more than children, including lust, illusion, idealism, and optimism about an incalculable future, all change. A marriage encompasses a lifetime of changes in two people, not one. It’s sometimes too hard for a person to accept his own changing, never mind accepting the changes that the other is going through.

George Bernard Shaw wrote: “When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”

Some of the change in a marriage can be positively unacceptable to one or the other partner. A pretty girl becomes an old woman. A man may adapt to that and remain fond of her, but finds that, while he has no less “desire” over time than he did in his youth, she eventually finds all that stuff repulsive. He is thwarted and shut out. Is it still a marriage?

A strong, gentle boy becomes a slothful, cynical old man. A woman may adapt to that and remain fond of him, but finds that, while she has no less admiration for him than she did in her youth, he eventually becomes a public embarrassment. She is no longer provided for and protected. Is it still a marriage?

Both husband and wife engage in some pretty stupid behavior during a marriage: gambling with the finances, flirting, becoming dumpy, neglecting the children, neglecting one another, quitting a job. The one who finds it easier to be an upstanding, righteous citizen will suffer serious doubts about the marriage as these things happen, while the one screwing up will feel unworthy and think about releasing the other from the situation. Is it still a marriage?

Children disrupt a marriage almost as completely as an interloper. A man becomes jealous of his wife’s constant attention to a child. A woman becomes jealous of a man’s free time once she has assumed primary care for their kids. But children grow and become your adult friends. Couples should look forward to that, especially during the kids’ teens.

Children and jobs open a couple to opportunities for making new friends. Secure couples are not threatened by one another’s friends, and friends may be essential in keeping both partners alert, stimulated, involved, and interesting to one another. Friends provide variety that a spouse can’t. Friends should be shared, should be friends with both, to the degree possible. But the friend I go target shooting with, because that’s what we both have in common, is not going to be an interesting friend to my wife unless it’s for something else altogether that they have in common. In the same way, the friend she cultivates because of their mutual interest in holiday decorating is not going to substantially enrich my life except as she enriches my wife’s or as we have a different common interest.

There is no need for a couple to restrict themselves to friends of the same gender. In my nearly thirty-year marriage, we’ve each cultivated great friendships with members of the opposite gender and this has never threatened either of us. Our marriage would suffer more if we took pains to avoid it, I suspect. Certain unavoidable relationships would be awkward or stilted if we couldn’t make friends of either gender, and I have to believe that there would be more damage to a marriage when a simple casual relationship is desired, even necessary and appropriate, but forbidden. Evidence of that conclusion are all the miserable, puritanical but highly-religious (or highly-righteous, anyway) men whose so-called Christian churches forbid them informal, normal casual contact with women, where also the women have to sit apart, remain silent, and the like. Evidence also exists in the misery of certain “puritanical” Muslim men, who obsessively criticize American women for “flaunting” themselves and whose tyrannical religious leaders forbid all social contact with women. Their fantasies of heaven, therefore, include being surrounded by virgins for all eternity. (Or virgins at first, anyway, one must surmise, until all the virgins lose their virginity.)

A marriage is made not by the vows two people exchange in some ceremony soon after they’ve met in their youth. It’s not made by the issuance of a certificate or the incantations of a priest. A marriage is made by two people taking the journey together and by their adapting their steps along the way to one another’s pace. When they seek God’s blessing on their union, their act of seeking it is also their signal to him that they are willing, or at least open-minded, to live according to God’s purpose. More than anything else, it seems to me, a marriage that acknowledges God in the beginning and throughout is going to benefit not so much from God’s blessing as from the couple’s tendency to live according to God’s expectations. A couple in such a marriage is humble, peaceable, forgiving, sharing, solicitous, adaptable, and probably, over the years, still in love.

So, what does it mean? It is entirely possible, in my view, that a complete, whole, sacred marriage exists in a couple that, so far as the public knows is shacking up or living in “sin.” It’s obvious that no true marriage exists in many of those couples who subjected their parents to an obscenely-expensive ceremony. My view on all of this doesn’t change in the event one partner dies and there is a subsequent marriage. It’s even more compelling if a first marriage was not lived as a sacramental relationship with God. If a second marriage follows and benefits from the wisdom gained in the first, especially the wisdom to include God, then good things will come of it and it will be blessed. As for the Bible’s treatment of second marriages, study Ruth and Boaz.

As for the Bible’s treatment of homosexual marriages, I find no reference to it in the good book. I have been told that, to God, homosexuality is an abomination, but then so, I assume, is hatred. I am also reassured by Yeshua, Christos, that nothing is so offensive to God that it cannot be made right with him. To the one who discovers a homosexual predilection I say, carry on and make the best of it. And when you meet your maker, feel free to insist upon a full explanation.

Homosexuality neither interests nor offends me. No more than, say, someone’s compelling interest in football interests or offends me. At worst, when I first heard of it, I found homosexuality amusing. However I have no concern for political sensitivities, so I still gaily tread on the eggshells of political correctitude. As for a pledge of commitment between homosexuals and a civil ceremony and all the benefits of secular marriage under tax law, I say, so be it. If a person is sexually repulsed by those of the opposite gender, as I am by those of my own gender, and is sexually attracted to those of one’s own gender, as I am to the opposite gender - and as certain as I am that I cannot change that polarity in myself so I also accept that it can be absolute, even though reversed, in anyone else - then take all I’ve said about marriage and apply it to two men or two women. God is interested in your “heart” (your soul, your loyalty and humility), in your relationship with his creation, and in your caring for your fellow man - (man in the original sense of the word).

As for the charge that it is an abomination, whatever that means, I submit that it is an abomination to accuse God of a perverse interest in what titillates you or me. There are enough people sexually oriented toward the opposite gender to assure continued over-population of the planet, indeed to assure eventual destruction of it. So I have no quarrel with those who decline the invitation - (at least in Genesis 9:1 it was an invitation, not a command) - to go forth and multiply.

The sex drive is very, very strong, and I suspect so regardless of gender preference. The sexual urge - the urge itself, never mind the preference - is not wrong, (which is more than can be said for the urge to hate or abuse or kill). If two men or two women can make as clear and abiding a commitment to one another as the one-half of married heterosexual couples who really meant it when they pledged until death do us part, then call upon God's blessing for the sacrament, have a ceremony, make the commitment, and live happily ever after.

Based on the foregoing, I find the debates about homosexual marriage, going on from state to state, irrelevant. A state legislature can define a marriage as the union of two men or two women if it wants to. A state legislature can pass a law defining marriage as the union between a man and a parking meter if it wants to. That doesn't make it a marriage. A state legislature could define marriage as only the union between two men or two women. Hmmm. Legislatures have already done things more stupid than that. How about the union of an old lady and her Chihuahua? If a state passes an act - (Massachusetts would be the first) - defining marriage only as the union of a homosexual couple and denying the definition of marriage to heterosexual couples, does that do away with heterosexual marriage?

Let the state make whatever mess it wants to of definitions and regulations. It will anyway. Reconsider the history of marriage. Revisit definition (1) above. If your union, man-to-woman, man-to-man, woman-to-woman, man-to-birch tree, woman-to-parakeet, is a marriage under God, then forget the state and let it go on its pompous way. If you don't believe in God, then there's no such thing as marriage, there's only the civil partnership with its tax breaks and lawyer-brokered consequences for messing it up.


IMPORTANT! See the 2006 update, More on Marriage.