Is marriage a legal or religious institution?
Posted by mandyf on June 5, 2012
Marriage can best be summed up by saying it is a legal institution which has religious components attached to it. The tricky part is the religious component of marriage is only attached to it if that is chosen, it is not a hard and fast rule, nor has it ever been. Why that is important to realize is because marriage is in the eyes of the beholders, nobody can choose for a married couple what marriage does or is supposed to mean to them.
Looking back in history it can be seen that marriage was initially for the most part a bargaining tool of sorts. It is no secret that for the majority of the recorded history of marriage such unions were arranged well in advance of the event. The reasons for this most commonly fell to the reasoning of using it to attain wealth or to consolidate power. Marriage as a tool to consolidate power was a way in which two families could arrange an alliance. A daughter promised to a son was viewed as a binding contract that two families would work in concert with each other to achieve whatever goals they set for the future. On the other hand many fathers used their daughters as a source of income, Even in the Bible it can be seen fathers had the right to sell their daughters. Over the years this more sordid image was cleaned up and term dowry was applied to this more often than not, however the concept was still the same, a daughter in exchange for some form of tangible compensation.
This is a phenomena that still continues today in some parts of the world. While women may no longer be legally viewed as property the way they once were, the underlying sentiment does remain in some cultures. The exchange of a tangible good may not be present in this era however there is still and understand unwritten contract of sorts in which the bonding of offspring’s through marriage is viewed as an agreement between two family heads to work in unison just as it was centuries ago.
Moving forward to modern day mainstream society examining the marriages of people in almost every nation today they are primarily based on love. Most ceremonies now as centuries ago do have some form of religious ritual or mention. That does not however mean that they are not a legal contract. In order to marry a couple must first obtain a permit of which the falsification of such could lead to fines, lawsuits or imprisonment as it is a government document. Fees are paid to the government, regulations set up by the government concerning who can and cannot be joined in matrimony are followed. In order to dissolve the union once again the government court system must be involved. In short, marriage as it stands today is a legally binding contract.
Suppose you look at marriage as a religious institution, to some degree you are correct. However for it to be valid in the eyes of the law it still must have governmental approval. What makes it religious, spiritual, or sacred is only the belief that may be held by the couple. Even then, most people that hold this view see marriage as a contract between the couple that is sanctified by their deity. Knowing this we can see that no matter which way you slice it, marriage is at its base a contract.
Saying and agreeing that marriage is a contract in no way marginalizes the spiritual significance some people choose to attach to it. Marriage is both a legal and sacred contract. The only difference is in a legal contract the couple is answerable to each other through man’s court of law, in the religious aspect of the contract they are answerable to each other in God’s judgement.