??? Why Get Married ???

 

An essay by

the Rev'd Christopher Heath JP.,B.E.,Th.L.

 

Rector of the Anglican Parish of Somerton Park South Australia,

Area Dean of the South Western Suburbs in the Diocese of Adelaide, and

Diocesan Chaplain MU Australia - part of the world wide Mothers Union.

 

January 2000

 

Contents:

 

Chapter 1 Introduction page 2

Chapter 2 Disclaimer 2

Chapter 3 The History and Legal Matters 2

Chapter 4 The Relationship 4

Chapter 5 Permanence 5

Chapter 6 Divorce and Remarriage 6

Chapter 7 Sexual Intimacy 6

Chapter 8 Love 7

Chapter 9 Obedience 8

Chapter 10 Children 8

Chapter 11 Impediments 8

Chapter 12 The "Age of Consent" 9

Chapter 13 We are all human 10

Chapter 14 Why get married in Church? 10

Chapter 15 The Essential Parts of a Marriage 11

Chapter 16 Preparation for Marriage 11

Chapter 17 Faith 12

Chapter 18 Conclusion 12

 

Chapter 1 Introduction.

"Aravis also had many quarrels (and, I'm afraid, even fights) with Cor, but they always made it up again: so that years later, when they were grown up, they were so used to quarrelling and making it up again that they got married so as to go on doing it more conveniently" - C. S. Lewis, in his third Chronicles of Narnia ("The Horse and his Boy" p175).

It has been expressed to me that there is a great need for some assistance to be given to couples to explain about marriage, to help them decide whether or not marriage is for them. I have put together this small handbook to put some of the arguments for and against marriage. It is not to argue for or against marriage for anyone or everyone. Marriage is an individual decision only the person themselves can make.

It is also not meant to supplant books and courses on marriage preparation. I should not want to do that at all. It is just that these are later questions. Once a couple decide marriage is for them - books and courses on preparation can help them develop how can they make the best of their relationship.

 

Chapter 2 Disclaimer.

I should say that the opinions contained in this essay are entirely my own, and by the publication of this should it not be construed as to purport that these views reflect the official policy of the Anglican Church, the Diocese of Adelaide, the South Western Area Deanery, the Parish of Somerton Park or the Mothers Union. Indeed I would not pretend that they are the last word on marriage, I can but hope that they are helpful to some people.

 

Chapter 3 The History and Legal Matters.

" ... who gives this woman ..." Book of Common Prayer 1662

It times past, formal marriage was probably restricted to the upper classes, mainly so that questions of legitimacy of children could be easily settled. So this was not anything to do with morality, it had everything to do with who was the eldest son - who inherited the property and the estate, and if the persons were of noble birth - who inherited the title?

For ordinary mortals, people made a decision to live together as man and wife and it was accepted that they were "married" with little or no formal ceremony.

Because marriage was confined to the upper classes, marriage became very much a legal matter as much rested on its legitimacy.

Normally the contract was between the father of the bride and the husband to be. Hence a woman who was an orphan or whose father was unknown or dead, was unlikely to be able to enter into a marriage contract. It also follows that the age of the husband to be was set at that age when a person could enter into a legal contract - currently this is 18. Up until quite recent times the girl had to be 16. Now with equality, the fact that women can in fact enter into legal contracts themselves, and so the contract is now seen to be between the man and woman, the age for both is 18. But again this is because one cannot enter into any binding contract before this age. It has nothing to do with morality.

The witnesses to a marriage, usually the best man and the first bridesmaid / matron of honour have to be aged 18 for the same reason.

Now a days the question: "Who gives this woman ..." is replaced by an (optional) affirmation by the families of their blessing of the marriage. It may be that families are not present or may not approve of the marriage.

The more widespread undertaking of marriage, rather than "de facto" marriages is probably a function of our affluence and our desire to hand our wealth onto our own progeny.

The contractual nature of a wedding also impacts on the practice of people who are already married wishing to undergo a further marriage to each other - as has become common among Japanese couples wishing a western style ceremony in Australia. Federal legislation forbids a second marriage between already married couples. This is to make sure the legitimacy of a child conceived between the two ceremonies was recognised, and saves the State ruling on the possible competing legitimacies of the marriage services of different denominations. Far from reflecting any disrespect on the non-Western culture, the law affirms the primacy of the customs of other countries. However a couple could legitimately request a former marriage to have a Christian blessing.

 

Chapter 4 The Relationship.

"It was ordained for the mutual society, help and comfort, that the one ought to have for the other ..." Book of Common Prayer 1662

One has a relationship with another, because the couple are more than the sum of the parts. We all have a desire to share our lives, our joys and sorrows, with another. One can indeed lead a fulfilling life "alone", many people do just this and make many contributions to society. The Church, with it religious orders for monks and nuns, has down throughout the ages provided one avenue of society for such people. Marriage is one of the "lesser" sacraments, not generally necessary to salvation.

However all human relationships, however we perceive and formalise them as individuals, are fundamental to our existence. The original creature into which God breathed the breathe of life was not complete. In the story woman was created to be a companion to man, as a remedy for his loneliness. It is only in relationship that we are complete - though I use the word relationship - rather than marriage. Clearly some people remain single and have lots of friendships with others.

One of the factors in the high levels of divorce is that people now expect more from marriage. People are not content with a roof over their head and regular money for "housekeeping". People now have the option of leaving an abusive or demeaning relationship. To remain in a relationship may bring on oneself more pain than leaving. To remain in an abusive relationship may well have it's continuing effect on the children of a marriage. Just to remain together "for the children" may not always be the best.

Some people have friendships with people of their own gender, with varying degrees of intimacy. The State defines marriage as being contracted between people of different genders, so technically people of the same gender cannot be married to one another. But again the State has (very happily) gone a long way to remove grounds for discrimination on these sorts of criterion.

 

Chapter 5 Permanence

"till death do us part" Book of Common Prayer 1662

There is, however one expresses it, formally or not, in most relationships (and not just marriage) a desire for permanence. As trust grows in a relationship, the one ought to be able to become more open with the other. A relationship hopefully becomes more open. Permanence also reflects in a stable environment in which children can grow up. The trend towards a number of careers that one undertakes these days will have it's effect on our children. I recall a church worker saying that their child, at one stage, expressed their frustration at not being able to rebel and leave home - the church was always shifting them, as a family, on to another position. The person's parents were always leaving home - so the teenager never had a home to leave - the parents were always getting in first!

Marriage is however no guarantee that permanence will be the case. Indeed there is evidence to suggest that those who live together, negotiate and communicate well. If the couple later decide to marry they unconsciously assume the roles of husband and wife that they inherit from their parents, and cease to negotiate and communicate well at all. This is not an argument against living together before marriage, it is an argument for communicating and negotiating after marriage.

The legal aspects to marriage can and do have their effect on the relationship where people can consider themselves "trapped", and the feeling of entrapment, hinders the very freedom marriage is supposed to enable.

"Till death do us part" is almost invariably the hope of all, the experience of some, but increasingly the ideal to which many find they cannot attain. Technically the State defines marriage as being "for life". One cannot contract to be married for a shorter period, even though it perhaps might well turn out so. One can (I suppose) contract to have a relationship for a shorter time.

 

Chapter 6 Divorce and Remarriage.

"open and notorious and evil liver ... betwixt whom ... malice and hatred ... reign ..." Book of Common Prayer 1662 (General Rubricks of ... the Holy Communion).

Despite what might have been the practice of the Anglican Church in past times, there is to my knowledge no law within the Anglican Church which states that those who are living together in an intimate relationship while not married, those separated from their partners, those who are divorced, or those who are remarried are ineligible to come and receive the Holy Communion.

No one escapes living "in sin" - few (we pray) are evil, few where malice and hatred reign. These are the only grounds (as I understand it) for any priest to refuse the sacrament of Holy Communion to a person, and should the priest so do, he or she is required to inform the Bishop immediately - to seek and obey the direction of the Bishop in the matter.

Divorce and remarriage are not the end of the world. God loves us as we are, not as we measure up to what we perceive to be God's commands. Few people who have experienced the pain of separation and divorce would, I think, commend it to others.

I suspect that much of the condemnation of divorce is not so much the morality of separation, divorce and remarriage, but with the anxiety that someone has taken something which is mine from me. Jesus has a few words about treating other people as possessions.

In some, but not all, parts of the Anglican Church, clergy who are prepared to do so are permitted to marry persons who have been divorced while their former partners are still alive, usually with the permission of the Diocesan Bishop. Usually this permission is granted when the couple have had marriage preparation. This is NOT because one or both of the parties has "failed" - but because it is a hope that previous pain is not brought into the new relationship. Different Diocesan Bishops have different regulations.

 

Chapter 7 Sexual Intimacy

" ... it is not by any to be ... taken in hand ... wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding ..." Book of Common Prayer 1662

However the same Prayer Book service uses the phrase: "with my body I thee worship" which is a very strong statement for a religion which has as one of its cornerstones worshipping God alone. The Christian religion has a very high opinion of sexual intimacy, and much of the Church's attitude to sexuality and marriage is an attempt to shield people from situations where people are devalued. Any attack on their sexuality is an attack on the very essence of a person, and much damage comes as a result.

I would contend however that the Church has historically devalued women by treating them as possessions of men, firstly their father, then their husband. This is only now being remedied as the tradition of the bride's father "giving her away" is being dropped from modern liturgies. The tenth commandment: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thy neighbour's wife ..." - is in order of importance! and guess who is allowed to work on the sabbath day (4th)?

 

Chapter 8 Love:

" ... to love, cherish ..." Book of Common Prayer 1662

What about love? Many couples have had long and successful marriages which have been "arranged". The emotional state we call "love" has to be accompanied by a solid determination by both parties to make any relationship work. We value that for which we have to work. If "love" actually happened without our consent, if we "fell in love" against our better wishes, we actually are acting irresponsibly - hardly a good environment to bring up children. Inevitably we will find issues which will require from us tolerance and forbearance. There will be days when we "hate" our partner. It is then that the quality of our love is tried. I am not sure who said it, but it is true that if you let the one you love go, if the person returns it is love, if the person doesn't it never was love. And the philosopher Kahlil Gibran said: "Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you" (Gibran, 1971 p15). Every relationship is a mixture of togetherness and separateness - and there are no "right" proportions.

 

Chapter 9 Obedience

" ... and to obey ..." Book of Common Prayer 1662

It is unfortunate that the usual interpretation of these words is that the wife is commanded by God and the Church to give more to a relationship than the husband. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The standard text for marriage is Ephesians chapter 5 where the man is commanded to love the wife as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for the Church - that is - to death. The man is expected to love his wife by being prepared to lay down his life for his beloved. Such a requirement is NOT asked of the woman. The command to obedience is only expected as a response to this quality of love. So the command to obey is a lesser requirement placed on the woman, not a greater one.

 

Chapter 10. Children

" ... it was ordained for the procreation of children ..." Book of Common Prayer 1662

The advent of reliable contraception has revolutionised marriage and relationships. It is not a requirement of marriage that couples intend to have children, either straight away or ever. Provision is made in modern liturgies for those beyond childbearing age for references to having children to be omitted.

 

Chapter 11 Impediments

" ... if any ... can show just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace" Book of Common Prayer 1662

The only legal impediments which can be charged at a marriage are that one or other is not of an age to legally enter into a contract, that the couple are closely related to one another, or one of the parties is already legally married. These are the only impediments that can be charged by anyone and moreover where an objection is lodged a priest is required to demand an indemnity against any pecuniary loss before differing a ceremony (An Australian Prayer Book p559). Most modern liturgies omit the public question, because the Federal law which govern the conduct of marriages requires the couple have to signed a statutory declaration to the effect that no legal impediment exists, prior to the marriage.

However marriage has to be contracted "freely" and without deceit. The old concept of a "shotgun" wedding where a person was forced to get married by their parents because the girl was pregnant is quite erroneous, because marriage must be entered into freely. Such a marriage would be automatically "null and void".

I suspect that a contract where some aspect of the other person's life is hidden also renders a marriage null and void. So a person who claimed to be Prime Minister of Australia but in reality was unemployed, the person who married him or her would have grounds for claiming that the marriage was not truly contracted. Hence the State's and the Church's desire for good preparation. It doesn't matter what station in life one has, but one must be honest about it before the wedding.

The ancient "calling of the banns" was to make sure that there was no legal impediment to a marriage. In Charlotte Brontë's classic novel "Jane Eyre" (Vol 2 chap 11) the bigamous marriage which was almost performed would not have been legal on two grounds besides the fact that Rochester was still legally married - the television version portrayed the attempt to perform the marriage "behind closed doors" to stop any possible objection (the reason for calling the banns) and that the existence of a spouse was withheld from his wife to be.

 

Chapter 12 The "Age of Consent"

"Too young to get married, too young to be free ..." "The Hollies"

It should be noted that there is no "Age of Consent" in the Bible. It is a fairly modern invention that we know what month or year it is. Peoples lives were regulated around the sabbath and the week. Few "ordinary" people would have been aware of the date of their birth, or even the year. It is good we live in a society which strongly protects young children from exploitation, which is something quite different from love.

 

Chapter 13 We are all human.

" ... for better or for worse ..."

Every relationship and every marriage has its downside. There are no Mr or Misses Right's out there - only a whole host of fallible human beings just like us. Many people endure marriage, and it is not for anyone, let alone the Church, to say that people should stay in any relationship or should separate. Again the evidence is that people tend to remarry a person with the same foibles as their previous partner. So separating and remarrying is no guarantee that issues will not reoccur.

However it should be said that we value what we have to work at, and our relationship should be no different. If we didn't have to work at it would we value it anyway.

 

Chapter 14 Why get married in Church?

"It is convenient that the new-married persons should receive the Holy Communion at the time of their marriage, or at the first opportunity after their marriage" Book of Common Prayer 1662

Within the Anglican Church technically it is the couple themselves who are "ministers of the sacrament" so the Church recognises the equal validity of civil marriage ceremonies (and presumably civil remarriages) to marriages in Church. Indeed, descended as the Anglican Church of Australia is from the established Church of England, we are morally bound to do so. Church people traditionally do ask the blessing of God on their decision, but it is not necessary to do this publicly. In the light of the rubric above, the receiving of the Holy Communion after a civil ceremony would be "convenient". In the Roman Catholic Church it is the priest who is the "minister of the sacrament" and therefore the presence of the priest is obligatory. Of course the Church has historically been the institution of the State with the local presence and authority to act as agents of the state. Clergy were the only people with the education, and therefore the local authority to married people. I suspect most often this was done without reference to people's religious affiliation for in times past the level of knowledge about things "religious" was much less.

I personally wonder if a refusal to marry is a permission to "live together".

Very recently, in the Diocese of Adelaide, the Archbishop has given permission for clergy to marry in places other than licensed Church buildings. Often, in the past, couples were married in the Rectory - the priest's residence, rather than the Church. Perhaps this was because the bride was pregnant, or the families poor.

 

Chapter 15 The Essential Parts of a Marriage.

"Wilt thou have this woman ... Wilt thou have this man ..." Book of Common Prayer 1662

From the church's point of view, three things must happen for a marriage to be legal:

the words "I will" when asked the questions above,

the giving and receiving of a ring,

and the join of the hands.

"You may kiss the bride" is not found in any liturgy I have seen - and its (unfortunate) provenance has come from American movies.

No Prayer Book I have seen specifies the bride's or groom's side of the Church. The woman may give a ring to her husband.

 

Chapter 16 Preparation for Marriage

"... is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly ... but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly ..." Book of Common Prayer 1662

Preparation is an opportunity to raise and discuss some of the sensitive issues of life - money, roles and expectations with family and friends, person issues, intimacy and faith. There are no "right answers" in marriage, courses and counsellors aim to get a couple discussing these sorts of issues, so that individuals can go into a relationship knowing at last something of their partner's expectations, and to perhaps begin a couple in the skills for dialogue on these sorts of issues.

Frequently contentious issues between couples are avoided prior to marriage - one or other may think that they will change that behaviour after marriage. The reality is that changing the other person may well be easier before marriage. All of us resist change, especially when it is expected or demanded from others. It may well be a recipe for a life of grief when expected changes in behaviour are not forthcoming.

 

Chapter 17 Faith

"those whom God has joined together ..."

Faith is an important factor in everyone's lives - even the most devout atheist. On the one hand faith is a "private" matter but it is important to find out if a prospective partner expects the other to join their faith, or to not join any faith.

Traditionally the couple married in the bride's church, and afterwards worshipped in the husband's church. Nowadays, of course, denominational affiliation is much more fluid. Sometimes couples compromise and join a third denomination. Often other factors are more important - the closeness of a particular church, a style of worship, the minister or friendships with members of a particular congregation.

People can change particularly through affirmation, people do mature. Every relationship, from the chance conversation at the "checkout" - to the more intimate - changes us. When we are affirmed, hopefully for the better, but sadly sometimes we are denigrated and the change is for the poorer.

We all have the right to intimacy as long as it is not at the expense of another.

 

Chapter 18 Conclusion.

"... as thou didst send thy blessing upon Abraham and Sarah, to their great comfort, so ... send thy blessing upon these thy servants ..." Book of Common Prayer 1662

May all who may read these words indeed find communion, affirmation and empowerment in your relationships, one with another.