Non-Legal Wedding

"Married in the Eyes of God" — but not the State

By Kersley Fitzgerald

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When Dev retired from the Air Force, part of the out-processing ordeal was to meet with a very nice man who explained to us the advantages of the Survivor Benefit Plan. Because he served for twenty years, Dev will receive retirement from the moment he came off active duty until he dies. As far as I can tell through the confusion, if Dev dies first, I will receive a percentage of his retirement pay unless and until I remarry before the age of 55. I will also be eligible for Tricare (the military health insurance program) unless I remarry. So, if Dev dies in some (heroic, naturally) manner and I find someone else to spend the rest of my life with who will keep me out of JT's basement apartment, I lose a lot of money if we marry.

There is an alternative, which is becoming more and more common. A friend in her 70s depends on her late husband's military retirement medical care. She's had at least one emergency heart surgery and her joints just aren't what they used to be. She met an absolutely wonderful man who willingly goes with her on missions trips to China and actually doesn't mind that the dear woman can out-talk an 8-year-old girl on Mt. Dew. They travel, her kids adore him, and seeing them together is just delightful.

But as far as we can tell, although they had a wedding in a church, they didn't file the marriage certificate. If they had, there might be no more traveling, as a substantial amount of money would have to be spent on health care. Their reasoning is their quality of life and independence require not having a marriage license. And since they said their vows in a church in front of God and everyone, they're married in God's eyes, so the government needn't worry about it.

This isn't unusual — in fact, it's a growing trend among older Americans. Beyond the concerns about children's inheritances and loss of widow/widower benefits, married couples may be pushed into a higher tax bracket, lose scholarship money for their kids, and be responsible for the debts of a new spouse who may not live that long. Just living together, perhaps with a stack of powers of attorney, simplifies things.

What does the Bible say? Nothing direct. The Bible describes marriage rites and living arrangements as were practiced at that time, but it doesn't specifically define marriage. In Colorado, you can certify your own marriage certificate. Turn it in and you are married. If you're two slaves working at two different plantations, unable to have a ceremony, you can recite your vows to God and the stars, and you are married. If you discover that after 28 years of wedded bliss and joint tax returns your best beloved forgot to file the license all those long years ago (my poor neighbor!) you're still married — depending on the state.

If you're two teenagers who gaze into each other's eyes and promise devotion forever, you're not married. You're just filled with raging hormones.

So, what constitutes marriage, anyway?

We have a pretty lengthy article on the subject. Is it the ceremony? Government endorsement? Sex? Or a combination? From the article:
So, what constitutes marriage in God's eyes? It would seem that the following principles should be followed: 1) As long as the requirements are reasonable and not against the Bible, a couple should seek whatever formal governmental recognition is available. 2) A couple should follow whatever cultural and familial practices are typically employed to recognize a couple as "officially married." 3) If possible, a couple should consummate the marriage sexually, fulfilling the physical aspect of the "one flesh" principle.

What if one or more of these principles are not fulfilled? Is such a couple still considered married in God's eyes? Ultimately, that is between the couple and God. God knows our hearts (1 John 3:20). God knows the difference between a true marriage covenant and an attempt to justify sexual immorality.
Or, in this case, financial shenanigans.

I think the idea of a common law marriage can be informative, here. If you've done the ceremony and live like you're married, are you "married" under the law?

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Published 9-14-15