Marriage - Common Law

Concerning the three definitions of 'companionate marriage' which you give in your letter, the first, which is defined as living together without being married, on either a trial or immoral basis, is obviously unacceptable in Bahá’í teachings and is, moreover, an offence which, if persisted in, could call for deprivation of voting rights. The second and third, namely (2) a marriage where the couple agree ahead of time that they will not have children, ever, and (3) an marriage in which the couple would not have children until they are sure that they wish to stay married, divorce by mutual consent being envisaged before children are born, are private situations which would be undetectable by anyone who has not been confided in by either the husband or the wife. thus, unlike the first type of "companionate marriage" they do not constitute blatant immorality and no question of removal of voting rights would arise. Nevertheless they are also both contrary to the spirit of Bahá’í Law. The Bahá’í Teachings do not contemplate any form of 'trial marriage'. A couple should study each other's character and spend time getting to know each other before they decide to marry, and when they do marry it should be with the intention of establishing an eternal bond. They should realize, moreover, that the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation of children. A couple who are physically incapable of having children may, of course, marry, since the procreation of children is not the only purpose of marriage. However, it would be contrary to the spirit of the Teachings for a couple to decide voluntarily never to have any children.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 378

The basic difference between the two categories of relationship is that common law marriage is considered by the parties concerned as a solemn contract with the sole intention of establishing a family but which, because of legal complications, cannot be duly registered, whereas in companionate marriage and the like the parties concerned initiate and maintain their relationship either on a trial basis or on other immoral grounds, both of which are condemned in our Teachings.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 379-380

When considering cases of couples who are living together without being married it is important to distinguish those who started this association after becoming Bahá’ís from those who were in this condition already at the time of accepting the Faith. The House of Justice is sure that your Assembly is aware that it is not permissible for Bahá’ís to enter into such an immoral relationship and that any believers who do so must be counselled by the Assembly and warned to correct their conduct, either by separating or by having a Bahá’í marriage ceremony in accordance with the provision of Bahá’í Law. If, after repeated warnings, the believers concerned do not conform to Bahá’í Law, the Assembly has no choice but to deprive them of their voting rights. "The situation of those who were living in such a relationship when they accepted the Faith is less clear-cut, and the House of Justice has instructed us to send your Assembly the following summary of the applicable principles which was prepared in response to a similar question by another National Spiritual Assembly.

1. In general, marriages entered into by parties prior to their enrollment in the Faith are recognized as valid under Bahá’í Law, and in such cases an additional Bahá’í marriage ceremony is not permitted. This applies whether the marriage was established under civil or religious law or under tribal custom.

2. A couple living together merely as man and mistress when either or both become Bahá’ís are not married in the eyes of Bahá’í Law, and must either have a Bahá’í marriage in accordance with the provisions of Bahá’í Law, or cease living together. In other words, the Assembly must deal with the situation as it would in any other case of immoral behaviour, explaining the requirements of the law, giving repeated warnings, and ultimately, if the offender does not comply, he must forfeit his voting rights.

3. Because of unusual conditions in certain countries and certain cases it sometimes happens that a person will become a Bahá’í when he or she is living in a situation which does not clearly fit within either of the above definitions. Such a case occurs, for example, where a couple have established firm ties of union and are living together in such a way that they appear to be married and are accepted as such by those around them; the union has stood the test of time and there may even be children, and yet, in fact, the couple are not actually married in any of the ways defined above. The principle followed here is that we do not pry into people's lives and insist on their undoing those ties they have established before becoming believers, but the union is accepted as a marriage in the eyes of Bahá’í Law. The Guardian upheld this principle in situations which arise in some catholic countries where, because of the relationship between church and state divorce is impossible, and none or both of the parties may still be legally married to someone else. Where it is possible for such a couple to regularize their position in civil law by having a civil marriage ceremony, they may certainly do so, but it is neither necessary nor permissible for them to have a Bahá’í marriage ceremony, since, in the eyes of Bahá’í Law, they are already united in marriage.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 379-380