Now I'm Christian, and I understand that sex outside marriage is generally considered a bad thing.
What is it? An agreement, but how exactly? Occasionally I'll hear social conservatives decrying the idea of 'shacking up', but ignoring the social connotations, it is marriage without the legal documents.
While legal marriage may conform in letter but lack the spirit.
In society the purpose of marriage as a contract is to keep the husband from running away.
I have no plans for that, and personal observation (and stories here) have convinced me that there is significant financial danger, and no benefit for the man, in a legal marriage.
So what is a religiously acceptable course of action?
Well, you're not getting too much response so I'll throw in a couple of pennies worth . . .
First, let me say that getting married 19 years ago was the BEST thing I have ever done in my life. It has a wonderfully stabilizing effect on a man and produces many positive outcomes. It's not true there is no benefit for the man in marriage. Have you not heard that behind every great man is a good woman. It's true. If you want to become all you can be, start by finding a woman to cleave to. I'm serious! In fact, I heard once that the four most important things a person can do to acheive success is to 1.) finish high school 2.) Get a job, any job, and keep at until you find a better job 3,) avoid making babies out of wedlock, 4.) Get married and stay married.
But more to your questions, to me, marriage is the joining together of a male and female* as husband and wife to produce a new, single entity, the marriage itself. Often this union manifests in the form of children -- in which the two truly become one flesh -- but it doesn't have to include children. In my mind, the legal document is secondary. What matters is that the marriage is the product of the love between the two and their determination to make their union an expression of God's love.
The piece of paper is important, though, mainly because of the gravity it attaches to the Union. It seems that to refuse to submit to the legal aspects of marriage is essentially a selfish act. By not going through the legal hoops we try to protect ourselves from future hassles. That misses the whole point of a marriage. In a marriage the emphasis is on the union -- the married couple -- and not either individual. Marriage involves sacrifice and the first sacrifice is the preminence of SELF.
As for the question of sex, Consider Adam and Eve. They did not have a marriage license and yet they were married. How? They became married when they "knew" each other. The same is true of a lot of OT characters who "took" a wife — as in they took the wife into their chambers and did the nasty. In fact, there is a case to be made that when you make the beast with two backs you become married in God's eyes — or at least that he sees that as a lifetime committment. Can you imagine if we held that view today: Have sex and you're married! Wow!
What was it Willie Nelson said? There is no such thing as an EX wife. There are only MORE wives. What if we made a lifetime commitment to everyone we ever had sex with? FOr some people that would be no big thing. Yes, there are people who get married as virgins and have only one partner their entire life. For a whole lot of other people life would be quite a bit more complex.
We can say what we want and make whatever excuses we want but Biblically, casual sex is not condoned. Whether we're talking about a union sanctioned by the state, a common law union or a personal committment before God, sex is supposed to be confined to marriage. More strictly interpreted, in God's eyes the sex act may actually BE the marriage contract.
And let's face it, sex is a big part of marriage and is sometimes a pretty good indicator of what's going on in other parts of the relationship — but not always in ways you think. In my own marriage I've seen ups and downs. There have been times when me and the Mrs. were closer than at other times. But the important thing is stick it out and work it out. That comes with the committment that marriage represents. Without the marriage it would be too easy to chuck it all when things got rough.
In my own case, my marriage is great. Our child is off at college and we're like young kids again. We talk more, we spend more time together and things are going really well. I've always thought my marriage was good but right now it's actually better than I ever imagined it would be. We never had really tough times but there were times when things weren't as exciting. But because we were committed to the MARRIAGE there was never any question of looking for more fun somewhere else.
I'm rambling. WHat I'm trying to say is that marriage can be really cool. But it is a work and a process. It offers great rewards but it starts with a committment!
* I say male and female because I believe male and female are symbolic of God's word and spirit. It takes both to make a natural conception and it takes both word and spirit to make a spiritual conception in our mind. Any other relationship will not produce life, either in the natural or in the spirit realm. Word (or doctrine) only does not give us life. Neither does spirit with no words to guide it. It takes both. Homosexual relationships give the wrong spritual picture and are therefore not consistent with God's blueprint of life – again, either physical or spiritual. If two gay people aren't interested in doing things God's way and only want to do their own thing then they can just have at it as far as I'm concerned. But homosexuality is not consistent with a life that seeks to honor and follow God. Any form of gay marriage — no matter how much love the two say they have for each other — will always be a perversion because it perverts God's blueprint of life. A gay union can never be anything but two people choosing to exercise their own selfish wills rather than God's.
I would have to concur