It’s only a bit of paper

One thing which really concerns me today is the tendency for people not to marry but to simply live together. ‘Why get married just to get a certificate’, people will say; ‘after all, it’s only a bit of paper’. This is not a new saying of course; it was in use when I was a young man in the late 1960s and early ’70s. The difference between then and now is that in those days, most people still got married. People who loved each other used to be prepared to stand in front of witnesses and say so, promising themselves to one another for life. But like so many issues related to family, this has all changed in recent years. And one of the saddest symbols of that change is this pathetic and silly little mantra; ‘it’s only a bit of paper.’

My mum used to say that if you throw enough muck at a wall, some of it is bound to stick. She was right. The mantra ‘it’s only a bit of paper’, has been repeated so often over the past forty years or more that most people in our western societies now seem to believe it. Even many older people I’ve spoken to who’ve spent their lives attending church and were brought up to believe in the sanctity and value of marriage have bought into the idea that it’s now okay to just live together (helped, maybe, by the infinite wisdom of the C of E which, several years ago, announced that we should drop the term ‘living in sin’). Of course, the media too have helped to gradually insinuate and reinforce the idea into all of our subconscious minds that this is quite normal and acceptable behaviour.

One of the inconsistencies thrown up by this is that we are now expected to assume that people will be committed to the children they produce and trust that they will love and honour them all their lives, but not that we should expect them to make such a commitment to each other as parents. I’ve watched hundreds of children of such unions being paraded through the Anglican church for their baptism* (for which they receive a baptism certificate!) And this whilst their parents who, before witnesses, will stand in front of a congregation and Almighty God, and promise to raise their children in the Christian faith, whilst openly flouting the same religion by living together whilst refusing to marry. What can we, who believe in the sanctity of marriage, say in response to all this?

What I usually say – especially to young couples who repeat the mantra for my edification – is this. When you went to buy your home, did you have to sign a contract? You did? How come? You should have said; ‘Look here, I’ll be honest with you and I’ll pay all the payments. You can trust me. We don’t need to sign an agreement. We don’t need that kind of commitment. After all, it’s only a bit of paper!’

A £20 note is a bit of paper. So is a birth certificate, a driving licence, a passport, a last will and testament and a death certificate. The really sad thing in all this is that although the ‘bit of paper’ which is called a marriage certificate is being scorned and rejected, another ‘bit of paper’ is becoming quite commonplace. It’s called a ‘pre-nuptial agreement.’ Is this sad or what?

* To discuss the foolishness of the CofE in this regard would take another entry. Perhaps some other time?

  1. Hello Chris,

    Is there evidence (marriage certificate) that Mary and Joseph actually got married?


  2. Peter
    Probably not. But I think there are circumstances which make this particular betrothment (which in those days was about equivalent to our marriage) unique.

    I guess too, that Mary and Joseph didn’t have a mortgage contract either. This was after all 2000 years ago and many things were quite different. My main point was about people being willing to commit to something these days. It seems we are willing to commit (in law, signified by contracts etc) to all kinds of things but not so keen anymore on committing in the same way to a life-long partner.

    I feel that when people are not committed in the eyes of the law (many people getting married now don’t believe in God anyway), it’s somehow easier to walk away; the wife and children (if there are any) are not as secure. I think that casual attitude to families is helping break down our societies. I’m not, of course, suggesting that people can’t be committed and live together all their lives without the ‘bit of paper’. I should have made this clear in the piece.

  3. Chris,
    Thanks for this, spot on again!

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