‘Oh, that’s a bit young!’ I was reading the accompanying paperwork that came this week with my registration as an approved marriage celebrant in Scotland. My limited experience of solemnising weddings in different countries knows enough to check the ‘fine print’ because each country seems to have slightly different understandings of marriage and ways of getting married. Up until very recently my guess is that marriage was viewed popularly as a man and a woman ‘living hap-pily ever after’. Everyone knows what they want to have happen so to speak but where there was disagreement it was, I think, more about the age at which a person could marry and the degrees of the relationship between the people concerned (largely over whether cousins should marry).
So my exclamation came about because in Scotland people must be at least 16 on the day of their marriage. Now that’s the same age in England and in Aus-tralia. The difference however is that in Scotland people are free to marry on their decision at 16, while in England and Australia that age to choose for yourself is 18. (You can marry from 16 but in both countries you must have your parents’ permission.) 16? Wow! That is young! (Not necessarily to a 16 year old I suppose … and I’m remembering that I married ‘youngish’ .)
I don’t think my reaction is necessarily incorrect or unwise. You should understand what you’re doing in life – be responsible and accountable – and that is never so important as in marriage. In fact the law even says that people must be capable of understanding the nature of the marriage ceremony and of consenting to marry. But it occurred to me precisely because I see a fair amount of marriage break down that the marriage ceremony, big as it is, important as it is, should be seen as more the beginning of something rather than the end point of the courtship. And that’s also true if a couple has been living as de facto that when they marry, their relationship changes (in big and little ways).
So whether you’re 16 or 66 or 96 – ok, forget the age (just keep it above 16) – when you marry, your commitment is to repeating the vows and promises every day. And as you age, so your marriage ‘ages’ (or I could use the word ‘matures’) … changes … with expected and unexpected events … but it continues because the couple keep making their vow and promise to each other. That’s what happens in marriage – it is something you do if you’re getting married. You marry your husband or wife and your husband or wife marries you. I don’t marry you! I solemnise what you have done. I say it is legal and, the important thing, that God blesses you. That means that each couple can face each day of their married lives making those vows and promises again and again – valid because you said them rather than your spouse deserved them.
Marriage is increasingly a ‘hot topic’ in our society. What God has established and given to humanity is clear. What the world does is up to it and we accept that as far as we possibly can (so, for example, the Church respects the age limits the State imposes). But what is important for Christians is that marriage as God’s gift is also a picture, description, metaphor of God’s faithful love to his rebellious (‘adulterous’ is often used in the Bible) people and so God in Jesus – even though he didn’t marry – becomes a model for those who marry – no matter what the other person does. And that’s an aspect of marriage I want each couple to know and follow no matter what age they marry … even at 16. GS