What does marriage mean? What is it's point/intention/raison d'etre?
Why get married?
What makes marriage so much "better" than other committed, monogamous relationships?
Oops, look like my "rabble rouser" side is coming out again but really, think about those questions. They grow out of my experience meeting with couples. In four years of ministry I have yet to meet with a couple who are not living together -- and in today's world a common-law relationship has pretty much the same legal force of a marriage, particularly in terms of child support. Several of the couples I have married have a child together already before they become engaged.
When I meet with a couple for the first time I ask three questions:
- How did you meet/get together? (You can get some really good stories out of that one--like the bachelor auction story I heard once)
- how long have you been together? (anything from just under a year to over 11 has been the range of answers to that one)
- Why get married now? (again a wide range of answers here. I ask this to get a sense of what marriage means to them. At some point in the process I do ask what it means to be married.)
Sometimes in the last year, particularly during the debate in Canada over same-gender marriage, I have mulled over what defines a marriage. Many years ago I came to the conclusion that genitalia were not part of the definition, rather marriage was a statement about the type of relationship the people had. Is marriage perfect? Of course not. Does getting married mean "everything can be worked through? OF course not--in fact I make a point in wedding meditations to name the fact that building a deep intimate relationship is hard work with bumps and curves in the road.
What is marriage? What is its selling point? Sometimes I think people view a marriage certificate as a license to have sex (churches often talk about "chastity in singleness" with the presumption that chastity means celibacy--but my take on the church and sexuality is a whole other rant. As a teaser I will say that I hold the Christian church partially responsible for the porn industry. More at another time.). Well in a world where most couples live together, and many of those who don't have had sex already that is obviously of little meaning. And many couples choose not to/cannot have children so the idea of marriage being for procreation is out the window too.
I believe in strong families. I believe that children benefit from having more than one parent (although the gender of those parents is usually not relevant). I believe that we need to model ways of being together in relationship to our children and that marriage is a way to do that. I do believe that marriage -- faith-based marriage, not just the legal contract -- is a way to strengthen a relationship and to show publicly our commitment to that relationship. This is why we still say "as long as we both shall live" and not "while things are good" or "until trouble starts". The words are not a guarantee but a pledge to work hard for that goal. But sometimes I still wonder why people get married and what marriage means.
UPDATE: I was re-reading this and need to make it plain. I believe in the importance and power of marriage. But I think that the term has become meaningless. The value of marriage, for me, lies in it's faith dimension, the covenant aspect. Unless we in the church find a way to clearly differentiate that from the legal term we don't make our point. I am often convinced that the church should only do services of blessing. We should leave the legal stuff to others and focus on the relationship. Isn't that really what we are all about?