What is a legitimate marriage?

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by timfost, Sep 26, 2019.

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  1. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Hi all,

    What is necessary to make a marriage legitimate? Witnesses, ceremony, covenant, the state... a tent? :)

    If two people have lived together for years, consider themselves married and are regarded as married by their family and community, yet have never actually had any ceremony, taken any vows before witnesses, etc., should they be considered married? What role does the state take in modern culture that it wouldn't have necessarily taken in history, if any? For example, I don't think Jacob got a marriage license from the state-- there was simply an agreement with Laban and then a trip to the tent.

    Any thoughts and resources would be helpful.

  2. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Legitimate for what purpose?

    We live under laws as well as custom. Jacob never had to wonder if he could file taxes as married, for instance.

    Since we are to live under the laws governing us (Rom 13), then it would be wise to consult the laws of your jurisdiction to see what makes a legitimate marriage.

    I reserve comment on whether the governing authorities can make marriage legitimate where it ought not.
  3. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Should a commonlaw marriage, if allowed by the state, be recognized as legitimate in the church? (It's moot in PA, for example, as the law allowing for commonlaw marriages ended in 2005 for anyone after that point.)

    Also, the state does not require marriage in order to cohabitate. Does someone violate Rom. 13 by considering themselves married when the state views them as legally cohabitating?
  4. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    "Considering" oneself married doesn't mean one is married. Marriage forms a constraining bond when the going gets tough. Tell me, in your test case (purely hypothetical, I'm sure) if one or more of the partners abandons the other, is them "considering" themselves married enough to bind the abandoning partner with duties of support, etc? Part of the reason for civilly recognized marriages is for restraining wickedness, promoting good, and keeping order - formally recognized unions are tracked by the state and imposes obligations (and rights - i.e., a spouse can't be forced to testify against the other) that go beyond what friends and family might "recognize."
  5. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    That's helpful, thank you!
  6. RJ Spencer

    RJ Spencer Puritan Board Freshman

    No vows, no covenant = No marriage.
  7. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    If a state law recognizes it, why not?

    For what it's worth, Montana recognizes common law marriage, but "considering themselves married" in itself won't make a common law marriage.

    Competency to marry, mutual consent, cohabitation, and public repute (holding yourselves out to all the world as married) are required. If there is a dispute over the issue (like survivor's benefits), litigation often follows. It's a lot simpler to get the license.

    I'm trying to understand the point. No, a couple won't go to jail if they cohabitate but are not married under state law. But if one tries to take advantages of marriage without recognition under state law, (like using courts to probate your "spouse's" estate or getting a tax break based on marriage), he runs afoul of being "subject to the governing authorities."

    Is the point of the question more directed to churches? As in, a couple lives together but is not lawfully married being disciplined by a local church?
  8. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Junior

    We are to "provide things honest in the sight of all men" (Rom. 12:17). The traditional wedding ceremony (with its "...let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace") and Western civil law are founded upon this principle. In our hyper-individualistic society, people balk at such things, but this is because most have no understanding of the implications it has for the broader society.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2019
  9. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    We have to separate natural law from positive law.

    Marriage is a natural institution. At the basis of what makes a marriage a marriage is the agreement to be married. That's all that natural law requires.

    That being said, God has appointed the civil magistrate to administer natural law, and he can't do that without legislation (i.e. positive law). The civil magistrate has the roll of protecting marriage, and is free to require compliance to reasonable requirements (such as a marriage license) in order to guard the institution.
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  10. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    Thank you both for these observations. They put paid to the notion that I used to see advocated among some Reconstructionists that it was sinful (yes, I have actually seen it argued) to acknowledge that the civil authorities have any role in licensing marriages.
  11. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Junior

    @timfost, I may be wrong, but it seems like there is some context for your question. Would you mind sharing it with us? It may prove helpful in discussing the matter.
  12. Andrew35

    Andrew35 Puritan Board Freshman

    Due to my peculiar international circumstances at the time, my wife and I were married in a church ceremony several months before we were able to obtain the marriage license. So I while consider the latter ideal for practical purposes in modern society, I consider it inessential to marriage.

    It seemed to me then (and still does) that the essence of marriage is a vow before the community--whatever that community may consist of. After all, it is the community that has an interest in a healthy marriage, whether it be a national govt, as is the current case with marriage law, or whatever local community of premodern times saw itself competent to witness and officiate.

    I've heard the question posed before about whether a man and woman (provided they were free to do so) on a desert island might be married. I think they could, but "witnesses" would be a bit of stretch here. Maybe invoking heaven or earth or something would be appropriate.
  13. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, were dealing with a difficult case, though I'd rather not discuss details on a public forum. I'll PM you later.

    I'm hoping with this thread to set out some principles and resources.

  14. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    @timfost, it's worth noting that recognition of common law marriage varies by state. You may find a perusal of various states' laws helpful.

    Also, note that common law marriage was once much more widely recognized than it is now.
  15. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    I think this is what he is getting at.

    How does the state's definition play into the church's definition of marriage? Is that the question?
  16. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    There was a question in a facebook group about international marriages. Visas take a long time to process, so in a government that does not allow for common law marriages, could there be a marriage ceremony conducted by the church in one nation and then the couple could get legally married in the nation to which they intended to move and were applying for a visa? Would the church marriage be a valid marriage even though it was not legally recognized by the government in which it was conducted (i.e., no marriage license was gathered)? Would natural law trump civil law in this case, or are the couple not validly married until the civil magistrate recognizes it (as I would think to be the case)?
  17. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    The older I get the weirder circumstances become. My Mother and I were discussing a situation we know of where an Elderly couple had a Pastor marry them without a license for the purpose of Social Security and Tax reporting. I found it to be a misguided approval and sanctioning by the Pastor. I am very interested in hearing and reading the feedback concerning this thread. Since the time the supposed marriage was performed the male passed away. Of course there is more to the story since the male passed away. Property and things combined during the situation have now another side of the story as it pertains to law. We do not have common law marriage here in Indiana.
  18. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    That's the opposite of what they usually do in Europe. The binding civil ceremony at city hall, then schedule the church blessing for later. One of the Catholic cousins seemed taken aback by my question, "So you were living in sin for a couple of weeks?"
    I'll throw a legal twist into the mix - proxy marriages. Really rare these days (and not lawful in most states), but I remember a newspaper story about one 40 or 50 years ago.
  19. Andrew35

    Andrew35 Puritan Board Freshman

    Just to clarify, my own position is that getting a marriage license is nearly always the right--and wise--thing to do. I don't expect my situation to come up often.

    (The short of it, for those interested, is that we were living in China and had already planned all the details of the wedding, but come to find out that the local govt agent was unwilling to legalize a marriage of two foreigners. So we scheduled the legal business for Hong Kong, but due to their being booked up in a busy wedding season, that had to take place several months later. Some time later we found out that China actually could have legalized our marriage, but as it wasn't a common practice in our region so they just told us "no." That's China for you.)

    Government recognition, however, is not essential to a marriage. And we certainly should not see it as such. Keep in mind the institution of marriage predated the institution of human govt. It is reasonable for authorities to regulate and protect, as mentioned earlier, marriage (and note that this was traditionally the local communities and/or churches, not governments). But their presence is not necessary to make it a marriage. Yet granted this, one would question the motivations of anyone who wanted to do without them...
  20. jonpeter

    jonpeter Puritan Board Freshman

    This could be interpreted as if fornicacion could be transformed to a marriage. Marriage is holy, is created by God, not by men and fornication is a sin, being against God. These are very different things.

    I understand that the marriage is a covenant. This covenant just not involved the husband and the wife, but the family and the community around them.

    There are social obligations and freedoms that people has within a community. This is shown by God in the bible. For example, the son and the daughter are under the authority of the parents, but this authority disappears when the son or the daughter marries. The commandments of marriage are given not just for husband and the wife, but to the parents too.

    Deuteronomy 7: 3 You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4 for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.

    The family includes not just the blood family but the faith family. So the precense of the family in the stablishment of the marriage is not an invention of men but it is commanded by God.

    Please be patient with my english.
  21. Andrew35

    Andrew35 Puritan Board Freshman


    I think people in other cultures get this better than we, in our hyper-individualized Anglo-world.
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