Why marriage matters
Answering the claim that marriage is “just a piece of paper”
Flávio C. from Brazil sent in the following request. He was seeking answers to the common claim that “marriage is useless”. CMI’s Keaton Halley obliged.
Hey, people of [CMI]! I love your articles and your mission on proclaiming the truth about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I checked your Marriage Q&A and I got very important explanations about marriage, but, can you guys please make an article about the importance of marriage and its benefits? I have seen and argued with people that say “Marriage is useless” and “A piece of paper doesn’t change anything” and I am curious about what you have to say about this since unfortunately marriage is losing its role in society … Thank you for reading and God bless!
I believe the institution of marriage is actually a powerful piece of evidence that supports the truth of the Christian worldview. Far from being useless, marriage is something recognized and practiced by basically every culture throughout history. Why would this be the case if it served no purpose? Yet it is the book of Genesis that explains how the very concept of marriage is rooted in the way God designed the world. God is the one who invented marriage when He created Adam and Eve. Genesis tells of how God made Adam first, and then God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone …” (Genesis 2:18). So, He created Eve out of Adam’s flesh, and then the text says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Thus, God instituted marriage as normative for all of humanity, beginning with Adam and Eve.
The voices claiming that “marriage is useless” are incredibly naïve. A mountain of social science data overwhelmingly proves that marriage is a social good, yielding higher rates of health and happiness, sexual satisfaction, and better outcomes for children than any other romantic arrangement. To reduce marriage to “a piece of paper” is absurd. Marriage involves a promise of lifelong commitment and fidelity to one’s spouse. This is why traditional marriage vows include phrases like “for better, for worse” and “till death do us part”. Cohabitation does not include this same level of commitment, so it cannot provide the same level of security to spouses and children that marriage does. Even from a legal standpoint, the “piece of paper” which represents the marital covenant secures the rights of spouses and children to things like inheritance, authority to make medical decisions, etc.
If a cohabiting couple is reluctant to get married because they say “a piece of paper doesn’t change anything”, their reluctance is a sign they don’t even believe their own claim. If it doesn’t change anything, why not go ahead and get married? It seems they actually realize that the piece of paper does mean something, and that marriage does bind them to one another and to any children they might have in a much deeper way. The fact that divorce is so devastating to spouses and children also shows that marriage does make a big difference.
To elaborate on just one reason marriage matters, consider the fact that marriage provides the safest context for sexual intimacy. This is why God’s Word instructs us to reserve sex for marriage (1 Thessalonians 4:3; Hebrews 13:4; 2 Corinthians 11:2). There is tremendous wisdom in doing things God’s way! Sex emotionally bonds people closely together, making a later breakup all the more difficult. Without the commitment of marriage, each partner has more freedom to leave should his or her feelings change. Yet a breakup will be far more devastating if the couple has been knit together through sexual intimacy.
Also, as many people can testify, sex can easily take over and become the focus of a romantic relationship. True and long-lasting intimacy has to be built outside the bedroom, but premarital sex can crowd out the things necessary to develop real relational depth.
Furthermore, there is always a chance of becoming pregnant outside of wedlock. A new life should be joyful news, but often outside of marriage it is unwelcome. Of course, this circumstance is a major reason why we have an abortion industry and a push to make or keep abortion legal in many countries. But elective abortion is a great moral evil. It is the murder of innocent children for our own convenience. A lack of adherence to God’s commands regarding sex and marriage has led to the slaughter of millions of valuable human lives, as well as many other harms to mothers, fathers, abortion providers, and politicians.
Some unmarried couples may desire children. But even if they would be happy to get pregnant, the problem with the lack of public, lifelong commitment remains. Either party is free to check out at any time. This isn’t fair to the child, who deserves two parents that share love for each other and responsibility for their offspring. It isn’t fair to the parent who is left to raise the child alone, if one spouse leaves. And it isn’t fair to other family members or even taxpayers who must now give of their time and money to assist those who have made poor choices. It is good for society to help, but it would have been better not to have had the burden in the first place, by being obedient to God’s commands regarding sex and marriage.
Of course, there are many other negative consequences that can result from premarital sex, such as guilt for wrongdoing, unnecessary pressure to ‘perform’, STDs, etc. That’s not to say that married couples never have sexual issues, but people are far more likely to be happy and fulfilled if we follow God’s design for sex and marriage. Statistics bear out that cohabiting couples who later marry are far more likely to get divorced than people who postponed sex until marriage, and those with the most satisfying sex lives turn out to be married couples.
The fact that marriage is such an important foundation on which society is built testifies to the truth of Christianity. It is a biblical worldview that tells us marriage is embedded in the fabric of our human nature on this side of eternity. God gave us marriage as a good gift, and it would not be good for society to simply toss it aside.
I hope these few thoughts help you and others to defend the goodness of marriage and the Christian worldview.