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Sunday, May 12, 2013

What is Marriage? - Alternate Arrangements

We've examined the biological, Biblical, and cultural basis for marriage in the past three articles to establish what marriage is and its foundations. Now we are ready to analyze alternate marriage arrangements in the light of this understanding. If you've not read the previous articles, do so now using the links above, otherwise the following explanations may not make sense without that context, or you'll read the wrong interpretation into it.

With that disclaimer, let's look into other marriage arrangements that have been promulgated now and in times past.

Living Together

We mentioned this in the last article, so I won't dwell on this one long, other than to say the following. While most people don't view this as a marriage, if sexual intercourse has taken place, it is. If not, then it is merely living together.

The problem with this arrangement, when sexual intercourse is involved, is that there is often not a marital commitment made by the couple. It is understood more as a dating/going-steady type relationship that could end at any time. The expectation is either couple could decide to switch partners, in effect divorcing their spouse and marrying another. So there is no understanding of this being a marriage, even though in reality it is. Children that may have been conceived will bear witness to that reality.

In essence, the only missing marital bond in most of these cases is legal. Because a lot of people living together don't have that, they don't think of themselves as married, not tied down, and will tend to easily tear asunder what God and nature have joined.

Bottom line, if you've had sex, you are not merely living together, you are married. One should treat it as such and fully commit to that person as a spouse, not as a "partner."


Polygamy is a marital arrangement where one spouse has multiple spouses. Traditionally, one man marries multiple wives, but could be reversed. Such marital arrangements are seen throughout the Old Testament. For instance, Abraham had two wives. Some of the kings like David and Solomon had several, often for political reasons more than personal desire.

However, these multiple spouses were not as common back then as some might think. Often the ability to have more than one wife was linked to one's wealth and status. The poorer folk didn't have the means to support more than one wife. Additionally, these arrangements often involved a lot of jealousy among the wives, and fed low self-esteem if they felt neglected. Our built in emotional need for monogamy tends to eat away at such family relationships. As can be seen even today, the descendants of Abraham's two wives are still at each other's throats four thousand years later.

Per our discussion on marriage, this arrangement has two big problems. One, it violates God's ideal for marriage. As Jesus related, God's design was for a man and a woman to be united into one flesh, period. Uniting to another involves divorcing and remarrying again, committing adultery each time. In effect, a man with multiple wives isn't married to them all in reality, but to one at a time, whoever he's had sex with last. He is also committing adultery constantly, rending asunder over and over again each marital union created.

Polygamy involves the constant uniting and rending asunder of that marital union, no matter what is legally allowed. So why was it allowed in the Old Testament?

One, there are no Bible passages that allow it. Merely none prohibiting it. Big difference.

Two, it was a culturally accepted practice at the time. While it didn't meet God's ideal, a lot of things didn't due to our fallen nature. God had to pick his "fights," so to speak. It isn't until Jesus comes along that this original intention of God is more fully explained. It is then in the New Testament qualifications for bishops, deacons, and the office of widow, that they be the spouse of one other person, not multiple. Because God's representatives were to reflect God's ideal in marriage.

So how could Abraham and others be called righteous if they were wrong to have multiple wives? Because as St. Paul says, where there is no law, there is no sin. If God had come down and told them, "You can't do that, because I consider it a form of adultery," then they would have been held accountable for not obeying. But knowing their culture and fallen nature, God chose not to make it an issue at the time. Therefore, they were not held accountable for this violation, because they "did not know what they did."

The one area that polygamy does have an advantage over all other alternate forms of marriage is that it treats the sexual union as a real marriage, with the accompanying commitments and support such a union deserves, at least in theory. As we'll see, this is not the case with most alternate arrangements.

Open Marriage

An open marriage usually involves the freedom of either spouse to have sexual relations with someone other than their "spouse," most often within a set of rules or boundaries. Though it is possible to be totally open with whoever without accountability, most boundaries involve keeping each other informed of one's sex partners and measures preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

This is a similar arrangement to polygamy, except though one is not "married" to they're partners, but are more like mistresses than wives. This arrangement has a lot of the same problems that a polygamist marriage does. But it has the additional problem that living together has, but in greater measure. It treats sex as not uniting two people into one, but as a mere recreational activity. Most extra partners have no social/cultural union with either spouse, and often no emotional union much less a legal union. Consequently, the commitment to life-long union and establishing a family basis with a spouse is lost, violating the uniting aspect of sex.

Homosexual Marriage

Much of late has been made of homosexual marriage on the legal front. The last election cycle saw several states legalize "same-sex" marriages. Homosexuals see marriage as a right the state grants which has been denied them, while many against it see it as legitimizing sin and making it the moral equivalent of marriage, even understanding the effort to be "redefining" marriage.

However, as we have detailed, the government can't define marriage, it can only recognize it and provide support for it. Because the state calls something a marriage doesn't mean it is. Nor does it have the power to change reality any more than it can turn an apple into an orange by passing a law that it is so.

Rather, biologically, two people can only be considered married who have a sexual union potentially capable of producing children. Since homosexual sex can never do that, real marriage is impossible, biologically. Without the possibility of biological parenthood attached to homosexual sex, there is no marital union taking place. It cannot replicate what sex between a man and a woman does.

Likewise, Biblically, homosexual marriage is impossible. There can be no "two becoming one flesh" without the potential of children from that union. This is why Jesus said, "a man and a woman" can unite into one flesh, specifically. Quite apart from the moral issues surrounding homosexual sex, such acts cannot produce a biological family unit, which starts with the parents uniting in an act that can create a family.

"But we love one another!" "But we've said vows to one another!" "I'm as committed to him as much as any husband and wife!" That all may be true. But none of that makes it a marriage. Even if a man and woman live together, are emotionally united to one another, become legally married, call each other husband and wife, and live that way until thy die in total commitment to one another, yet if they have sex of every type save intercourse, they would not in reality be married—they would not be one flesh. They would be no different than two very close friends who care intimately for each other.

So is the case for homosexual "unions." Apart from the questions of sin and whether one can be homosexual, such "unions" are nothing more than two very good friends living together, having committed themselves to one another in various ways, and participating in sexual play for purely recreational/love value. But love does not make a marriage real. There are many friends who love another friend more deeply than many spouses. The lack of love does not invalidate a marriage, nor does its presence create one. It supports a marital bond created by sexual union, as we documented in the three previous articles.

We should note, that this does not invalidate any legal discrimination at the heart of the homosexual drive to legalize same-sex marriages. I personally think it is a bad idea to label them "marriages," because they aren't and it isn't accurate, but a case could be made for a "civil union" to address the legal issues involved. Because that is all the state can do—legally unite two people into a committed relationship. It cannot create a marriage where none exists or can exist.


All of these alternate forms of marriage violate God's ideal as Jesus laid it out: one man and one woman uniting into one flesh via sexual union for their entire lives, with no one else involved. All involve repeated or planned adultery (not necessarily cheating) by a spouse uniting to someone else, thus divorcing their spouse and remarrying another, except in the case of a couple living together who never break up or have sex with another. The only people, Biblically, who don't commit adultery in that situation are when the other spouse has already committed adultery, or they have died.

This is all true, except for homosexuals. Since they cannot be married, it is impossible for them to commit adultery. They can cheat and be unfaithful to their commitments to one another, but there is no marital union to tear asunder nor can their type of sexual activities create a marriage that would divorce a real spouse.

Next time, we will look at the myths behind divorce, adultery, and marriage.

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