Expiration Dates on Marriage Licenses

ABC News reported that Mexico City lawmakers are proposing legislation that would allow couples to set an “expiration date” for their marriage licenses. Rather than making a commitment for life, the new marriage licenses would allow newlyweds to determine if they want to commit to simply two years and evaluate any extensions after that.

Leonoel Luna, the official who authored the proposed legislation stated:

The proposal is, when the two-year period is up, if the relationship is not stable or harmonious, the contract simply ends. You wouldn’t have to go through the torturous process of divorce.

In Luna’ defense, he recognizes that the process of divorce is long, difficult, and painful. There is plenty of collateral damage that comes from divorce, and I believe he is probably being sincere in his desire to prevent such pain. However, he has a completely wrong understanding of marriage. Rather than viewing marriage as a covenant, he sees marriage as a contract.

This current proposal sounds much like a sports contract. Right now we are in the throes of the World Series, and last night’s game had plenty of commentary about where different players had played. In fact, one player started the season for the Rangers but is now on the roster of the Cardinals. When a player signs a contract, he has terms for pay and length of contract. If things don’t work out, the team can simply refuse to re-sign the player. The contract ends, and both parties move on.

Marriage is not supposed to be that way. Throughout Scripture we see that marriage is described as a covenant through explicit statements (Prov 2:16–17; Mal 2:14) and comparisons to the covenant between God and his people and Christ and the church (Isa 54:4–8; Jer 3:14; Hosea 1:1–3:5; Eph 5:22–33; Rev 21:9). The covenantal model of marriage depicts marriage as a creation ordinance given to all people that creates a permanent bond between a man, woman, and God. Covenants cannot be broken arbitrarily at the whim of the parties involved.

The contractual model of marriage espoused by this legislator makes marriage nothing more than a legal transaction between two individuals for mutual benefit. In a contract, once one person no longer receives the agreed upon benefit, the contract can be broken. The reason this model does not work in marriage is because it bases the security of marriage on the ability of sinners not to sin. Theoretically, a “partner” in the contract would have an escape clause once he/she is wronged. In marriage, that probably happens weekly—if not daily.

Some people may respond with the thought. “This is just the world acting like the world.” Unfortunately, many people in our churches have the same understanding of marriage. They consider marriage to be a contract ruled by the civil laws of the day. Once they feel wronged, they begin looking for a way out. This is evidenced by Barna’s research that the rate of divorce among self-identified born-again individuals is the same as that of American society at large.

The solution to the divorce problem in our culture is not temporary marriage licenses. Instead, the solution is seeing marriage the way God sees it—permanent, covenantal, and sanctifying. Unfortunately, many both in the church and outside are not convinced. Therefore, we need to start by proclaiming God’s design from marriage in our churches. Once we start to look different from the world, then we may earn a hearing in our culture.

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Christina Ng, “Mexico City Considers Temporary Marriage Licenses,” ABC News, September 30, 2011.

The Barna Group, “New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released,” March 31, 2008.

One comment

  1. Great article. I have just had several soldiers’ relationships (one marriage) fall through on this deployment because of the “inconvenience” of being apart for a year.

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