The fact is, there are significant numbers of people who live together, “as if married” and they feel that their relationship does not require a “piece of paper.” I get it.
Recently an acquaintance told me that she doesn’t need to be married, that “it’s just a piece of paper,” and she doesn’t need said piece of paper. I agree with her that the piece of paper is unnecessary, in one sense.
If my acquaintance were “married,” in spirit, the piece of paper is secondary. Some people are clearly married, without the formal piece of paper; others are not.
My take is that marriage is not a piece of paper. It’s more than a piece of paper.
None of us needs a piece of paper to define our marriage. However, legally, that piece of paper provides benefits, privileges, and penalties, if unadhered-to.
Marriage, has been called Holy Matrimony. In fact, many of our church-based wedding ceremonies were predicated upon the fact that we were being united together as one, in the sight of God “and this company.”
This unity that embodies Holy Matrimony reminds me of the saying, “marriage of minds.” Several biblical sayings testify to this power of unity, which defines marriage as Holy Matrimony. Symbolic of our marriage-intent, and spoken at ours and many other weddings are, “a threefold cord is not easily broken,” and, “where two or more of you are gathered in His name,” Jesus, in the form of the Holy Spirit, is with them; “and there is love,” is how the song goes.
The social reality of marriage is reflected in this Scripture from Ecclesiastes, “Two people are better off than one for they can help each other succeed. And if one falls down, the other can lift him back up. A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.”
Notice the back-to-back reference. It speaks to the fact that if you have a marriage-partner you will be less vulnerable to outside attacks, your back is never exposed to an enemy or predator because they “have your back.”
“Love covers sin.” This is another reference to having your loved-one’s back. It’s ironic that we’ll overlook the lifestyle choices of one we love who has engaged in what we would otherwise define as wrongdoing, but vilify someone else who made the same choices. That’s because our love for them, covers them, protects them, forgives them, defends them. Would that we could make this kind of love more expansive and inclusive than our immediate loved-ones.
Paul McCartney, in one of my favorite songs, Let It Be, sings “when the brokenhearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer…” Leave it to the Beatles to reveal an important key to finding answers to our problems, agreement.
Some papers are symbols. Our marriage certificates symbolize our commitment to fidelity, unity, and to the long-term. Just because some have broken their commitments in some fashion, doesn’t mean they intended to, wanted to, or expected to and nor should they be blamed or vilified for doing so.
Many of our broken commitments have been mended, altered, healed, glued, or pasted back together, for the sake of some piece of paper. Because a piece of paper can be torn, burned, shredded or otherwise obliterated, doesn’t make null its purpose, or what it stands for. In the “rock, paper, scissors” form of decision-making, paper, although fragile in one sense, can still win – paper covers rock, even if you’re “between a rock and a hard place.”
Even when a marriage is dissolved, another paper takes the place of the marriage certificate. A divorce decree or death certificate. It stood for something; thus, another paper is needed to replace it.
Symbols are representative of something that is often immaterial. The marriage certificate has meaning in and of itself. It represents a marriage covenant; the word covenant meaning among other things, agreement.
In essence, we sign an agreement to do our best to stay in agreement. Sometimes our best isn’t enough and the agreement must be severed. This is relatable, if you admit your humanity.
It is known that the first year of marriage, whether the couple has been together days, months, years, or even decades, is one of the most challenging. Without this agreement, on a piece of paper, it was somehow easier to be together in part, yet remain unbound. The option to part ways, before we agreed on paper, was less complicated than after the piece of paper was signed.
Having accomplished the first year of marriage, we symbolically celebrate our first anniversary, with paper. Imagine that. It turns out that marriage is a piece of paper, but so much more.