Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Does God Accept Common Law Marriage?

Sarah Hyland and Matt Prokop her live-in Boyfriend.
Dear Carolyn,
               Thank you for the question.  I will start by saying yes, and no! It is difficult to say no or to say yes as a one word answer. The duality of my answer is because what the West may call Common Law Marriage (CLM) is not the same thing most oriental societies call it; they accept them as lawful marriages. Notwithstanding, in my response, I will be able to establish a truism. It is essential to note that marriage is more than just sex; it is a covenant.  By the end of my answer, you will be able to know if God accepts CLM or not. Furthermore, the answer I will give you will be in regards to Western culture and not the oriental societies (which do not recognize CLM in the western sense).  Are couples married only when they have signed papers in court, or are they married when they live together as husband and wife? I will start by showing when a marriage fulfills the conditions of CLM, when it does not, and then look at the concept of marriage from the biblical point of view. The Christian must be subject to the law of the land that agrees with the word of God (Rom 13: 1-4).
First and foremost, CLM is a bad situation that turns good or bad because there cannot be CLM without cohabitation, and there cannot be cohabitation without fornication or adultery, and God does not approve any of them. But what about those who before getting married were already having sex without living together? Would their marriage be annulled because of their premarital sex? It is true that not everyone living together with a partner is legally married in a CLM. Why even keep yourself in that position of suspense anyway?
There is a difference between a live-In Boyfriend or Girlfriend and a CLM. The reason why marriages are falling apart nowadays is because of premarital sex. Premarital sex is cheating against God, and that sets the covenant on the wrong foundation. In addition, although most confess their sins, they do not forsake them to have mercy; consequently, they leave no room for the Holy Spirit to guide them in all truth and bring forth his fruit in their lives. The fruit is what makes the marriage lasts. It is now rare to see people getting married as virgins.  
Some people are merely living in cocubinage (what the Americans call shacking up) and not CLM because there are four requirements for a marriage to be considered a CLM in the USA. Both parties have to live together in some point in time, file joint taxes, have the same last name and hold themselves in the eyes of the world as husband and wife, without a marriage certificate.  Likewise, even if you fulfill the above mentioned conditions, you must reside in a state that recognizes CLM. If your relationship does not have all of the above, then you are living in concubinage.  That means; whatever culture we try to apply must correlate with the scripture for it to be morally normative. It is not sustainable to contend that because the culture nowadays accepts bestiality and other sexual aberrations, they are now godly behaviors.
I read someone argue that God will never bless anything that started in sin. That means if you acquired your riches before as a thief and repented, God will never bless you because you did not have a good foundation. The Bible shows it differently because if anyone must start with a good foundation for God to be with them, then God is not supposed to be with any of us, for we were conceived in iniquity (Is 51:5), and all of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom3:23). Isn’t this the same God who permits sunshine on both the evil and the good, sends rain on the just and unjust (Mt 5:45)? So when then is CLM acceptable.
Let us define marriage again just to set the stage for our discourse.  Marriage is a bond in blood (covenant) that is sexually administered. Marriage is not a contract; it is a covenant which God oversees. The major difference is that, in the contract, one person could withdraw if they do not like it anymore;whereas, for a covenant, the covenantee can only be free when his/her co-covenantee abandons or dies. In a concubinage or live in boyfriend or just boyfriend/girlfriend situation, the bond is contractual; meanwhile, in marriage it is covenantal. Therefore, I will find it difficult to argue against CLM considering that marriage is not necessarily when people obtain a marriage certificate but if they make a life commitment before one another in the presence of witnesses. In other words, living as husband and wife in front of the society and bearing the same  name is covenantal. The acknowledgement of the state does not matter much. By marrying in front of the state, you make the state the arbiter or and it is then that you can benefit from the state. A couple could make that commitment in front of their relatives. The only disadvantage at that time for not having the government involve is in terms of advantages that are given to legally married couples.
By the time prior to the approval of CLM, the couple if living together will be living in sin. After the approval, whether they obtain a marriage certificate or not, it is not sin. In other words, we do not need a marriage certificate to consider a relationship, marriage. Let me repeat again; you do not need a marriage certificate to be married. 
Before the advent of courts, societies created their customary government that approved marriages. Until the 19th century in Africa, people did not secure marriage certificates. Does that mean God did not see them married? They made their eternal vows and established the covenant by seeing the parents and paying the bride price before witnesses and that was good enough. Nevertheless, if currently they want to benefit from the state, they must obtain a marriage certificate. If any authority in the form of witnesses acknowledges them as husband and wife, then they are married.
            Secondly, not until the 19th Century, African marriages were celebrated only customarily. At times, the woman had to drink and give the glass to the man she chooses as her husband. Then she picks the bride price and gives to her parents. That is when they say they are married. They could be living together for centuries but without that public commitment and demonstration of the covenant in the presence of witnesses, they were concubines only, a sinful behavior too.
Cohabitation or concubinage and premarital sex are sinful behaviors. Therefore, for all the singles flocking our churches and still living with boyfriends and girlfriends, they are living in sin. If your CLM does not fulfill the above conditions (for those living in the West), and for those in oriental societies, it must demonstrate the covenant and procure the bride price for your CLM to be acceptable in the eyes of God.  Anything other than that, the individuals are living in sin and may miss heaven if Christ found them in that condition.

Until then, CLM is acceptable before God when it fulfills the lawful conditions of marriage. 

St Arrey of Ntenako

“Bonyfish beware because the same net that caught the jawless fish, caught the cartilaginous fish” (Hamilton Ayuk). Beware earthly paradise seekers because there is a serpent in every paradise"(Hamilton Ayuk). Idle people write, idler people read, and idlest people read and whine that idle people are taking their time (Hamilton Ayuk).

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