Marriage is just a piece of paper? I hear statements like this often: “Marriage is more than a piece of paper. It takes trust, loyalty, love, faithfulness . . . .” So why get married? Of course a good marriage takes all those qualities and more, but is that the best way to think about this relationship? Is your birth certificate “just a piece of paper?” Is a car title “just a piece of paper?” Is your driver’s license “just a piece of paper?” Is your 1040 “just a piece of paper?” Are death certificates “just pieces of paper?” No, they are much more, and so is a marriage certificate. One can drive without a license, you can be alive without a birth certificate, and of course you can be dead without a death certificate. Yet all of those “pieces of paper” are helpful, useful, and in some cases, absolutely necessary for transactions and transitions.
It used to be (and still should be) that a wedding was the solemnization of vows “in the presence of God and the company of witnesses.” It publicized, solemnized, and legalized a relationship. It was a line in the sand, a post along life’s pathway saying officially, “two have become one” (Genesis 2:20). All of this was (and still is) good for human flourishing. Marriages should keep people together who ought to stay together even when things are going poorly. It can be security for offspring in these relationships. It should be a reminder of a promise made. It can be protection for people when things go wrong. Marriage certificates give the spouse rights. In life, death and “divorce,” unmarried couples don’t usually have this protection unless they draw up legal documents. The written covenant, which is an expression of a verbal covenant, gives both goals to strive for. You agree to love, honor and cherish each other in good times and bad times; in sickness and in health; whether rich or poor; until death do you part. It helps to completely define the relationship.
A good marriage takes love, trust, loyalty, commitment, sacrifice and more. In some ways, it can’t be reduced to mere paper. But, there are compelling reasons for those who commit, who covenant to co-habit for a lifetime to solemnize these relationships with marriage. It isn’t mere paper. This “mere paper” that represented in marriage is security, it is public commitment between two people, it is a promise to keep, it is a goal to work for, and frequently, a document to protect rights.