By Okogun Fidelia Ebalunosen
Marriage is the legal relationship between a husband and a wife. When questions are asked on marriage, the answer you get will depend on which part of the world you are in, the religious beliefs and the legal system in place.
The Christian marriage is the imperatives of the two persons agreeing and working together, the qualities that come into the union as they do so, and handling the consequences. In order for us to appreciate what we have, the unique, wondrous favor and graces in a Christian marriage, it is important to briefly look at the other forms of marriages that are available in our immediate society.
TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE: Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country with diverse rules of customs, traditions and practices which vary from one community to another. It is said that Nigeria has about 373 ethnic groups with their different marriage rites and consequences and multiplicity of features.
However, the following features are common in most traditional systems with slight variations. The betrothal or engagement, consent of the parties and the parents, capacity of the couple to marry, marriage consideration which some refer to as the ‘bride price’, handing over to symbolise solemnization of the marriage, consummation of marriage which is generally understood to be the first sexual intercourse between the couple.
No traditional marriage is perfected until consummated! Generally, a woman married to a husband is regarded as married to the husband’s entire family and forms part and parcel of the family, and as such, dissolution of traditional marriage is regarded as a serious aberration. However, rules of customs, traditions and practices in our various communities recognize and provide for dissolution of marriage by traditional divorce, separation or by death. It also recognizes separation and conferment of certain freedom to a wife including the freedom to raise children by another man.
ISLAMIC MARRIAGE: Although various opinions exist regarding Islamic marriage laws, the following constant remains: a man is entitled to up to four wives but the woman may only have one husband, the husband or his family pays a ‘bride price’ which she is entitled to keep, a man divorces his wife by making a declaration in front of the Islamic judge irrespective of the woman’s consent, even her presence is not required but for a woman to divorce a man, his consent is required.
The husband is responsible for the financial upkeep of the home, Temporary marriage even for less than half an hour is,allowed by some scholars, others regard it as a form of prostitution. Wife beating is permitted according to some scholars. there is no joint property; the man owns all except for what the woman owned before the marriage. There is no specific minimum age for marriage, but most agree a woman must have reached puberty. Marriage as young as 12 or 13 is not uncommon in Muslim-majority countries.
STATUTORY MARRIAGE: this is the type commonly referred to in popular parlanceas ‘Registry Marriage’ and is governed by the Marriage Act. Some people also call it ‘Court Marriage’. It is the union for life of one man and one woman and to undertake it, the intending husband and wife are required to complete the necessary form at the Registry to give notice of their intention. where the intending wife is less than 21, there is a requirement of consent of her parent or guardian and notice published within 3months and the registrar grants a certificate permitting the intending couple to marry after being satisfied that all the conditions have been met ie no caveat, no impediment, consent in place, resident within the district. The marriage can take place in the registry or in a place of worship but for this to happen, it must be conducted by a recognized minister of the religious organization concerned a d d place must have been licensed to celebrate marriages.
But there are certain factors that would render a marriage either void or voidable, It is considered void if the marriage takes place more than three months after filing the notice, both parties knowingly and willfully acquiesce in its celebration, either of the parties is already married to someone else, the parties are within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity and affinity, failure to comply with the formalities laid down at the place of marriage and if either of the parties is not of marriageable age. It is voidable when either party is incapable of consummating the union, either party has mental defect or subject to recurring epilepsy or insanity, either party is suffering from venereal disease that is communicable or when the wife is pregnant by another person at the time of marriage.
CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE: God created man in His own image and likeness, He blessed him to be fruitful and multiply and to take dominion over all the creatures on earth. Clearly, one of the ways by which man was to be fruitful and multiply was provided by God himself when He created Eve from the rib of Adam and brought her to the man to be his ‘helper’.
Thus, marriage was not invented by man, nor by society or by any culture or government. God himself invented it when he says in the Holly Book that ” for this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” Having invented it, he imbued the marriage institution with certain qualities, both physical and divine which have distinctively qualified it and made it unique as the two agree and work together. The Christian marriage is seen as a sacrament and according to the catechism of the catholic church, Sacrament is the efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the church by which divine life is dispensed to us. A valid christian marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament, that is, it is an external sign of God’s grace in the lives of the couple.
This type of marriage has been elevated by Christ from a mere coming together of two persons to the dignity of a sacrament with all the graces that come with it from God through the agreement and faith of the couple. Thus, the human element which is the union of two persons is united with God’s presence. Marriage is therefore both a human as well as a divine experience. The union of the man and the woman reflects the union of Christ and HIS church.
Another distinctive quality of the Christian marriage is in the Fusion and Unity. Marriage is not subject to scientific arithmetic but spiritual arithmetic in which one plus one equals one. It is by this divine arrangements that the scripture says “if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my father in heaven. It is infact, the fusion into one of two persons ie they will become one flesh! The christian marriage is indissoluble! It subsists so long as one of the parties is alive and cannot be dissolved by a person or power on earth ie ‘whatever God has joined together, let no man put asunder’. Marriage is a special contract with divine flavor and there must be mutual consent of both the intending husband and the wife. God never forces human will. He demands free will, nit forced service. Despite the enormous blessings that come with matrimony, many hardly take the option but would rather go for the other forms of union. Celebrating marriage as two Christians implies invocation of the Lord into the union. When God is called into the union, he blesses and sanctifies it.
This makes it to be both human and divine experience. A christian marriage has roles and responsibilities built into it. Marital strife is often a result of failure or neglect to perform such roles and responsibilities. A husband is to love his wife and treat her with gentleness as Christ does his bride, the church. Children are meant to and must jointly be encouraged to honour their father and mother, according to the fourth commandment. Either party usually causes a distortion and thus run against the will of God when he/she sets the children against his/her spouse.
It is required that couple live and exemplify practical christian faith by the way and manner they discharge their responsibilities. It is not enough to be christians by words of the mouth only, but by one’s actual conduct because your conduct as a christian is more effective in our everyday live.
God bless every couple!
Okogun Fidelia Ebalunosen
Assistant Editor (Features)