Bob and Norma Clark were married on August 29, 1964.
Or were they?
Yes, they had a beautiful wedding in a church, complete with all the trimmings.
But no, their marriage never got recorded with the County Clerk in San Mateo County, California, where their wedding took place.
However, they didn’t discover that until forty-eight years later. It turns out that they had never been legally married.
So were they married or not?
That depends on your definition of marriage.
As far as the courts, the State of California, and the U.S. government were concerned, they were not married.
They discovered that they had never been legally married when they began working on their wills and making legal arrangements for their deaths. They requested their marriage certificate from San Mateo County in order to ensure that they could receive one another’s Social Security benefits in the event that one of them died before the other. But there was no record of their marriage on file.
Although they had been married for forty-eight years, they were not entitled to any of the rights and benefits that married couples enjoy under the law.
So nearly five decades after their wedding, they made arrangements to get the marriage license filed and make it legal.
Does this mean that during all those forty-eight years when they lived together as husband and wife, loved one another, took care of one another, raised children, and experienced the joys and the challenges of married life, they were not really married at all?
Of course not.
Bob and Norma Clark had a real marriage, regardless of the legal status of their marriage.
Real marriage is not merely a legal contract with the state. It is a spiritual relationship. And by “spiritual” I do not mean wispy and ethereal. I mean a real union of two hearts, minds, and lives into one. This includes a commitment not only to each other, but to the union itself—to do what is necessary to protect and foster it.
Real marriage comes to exist when two people find a oneness of spirit with one another, and declare their commitment to that oneness before God in the presence of their family and friends in a wedding ceremony. Real marriage is an inner oneness of two people that is recognized by the community and blessed by God.
If two people also desire a contract with the state giving them certain legal rights and privileges as a married couple, there is no problem with that. Those rights are valuable. Nothing in this post is meant to minimize the importance of legal marriage and its advantages to committed couples who wish to function as couples in the social, financial, and legal systems of society. We believe that those civil rights should be available to any and every adult couple that wants to take advantage of them.
But let’s not confuse legal marriage with real marriage.
When, after forty-eight years of marriage, Bob and Norma went to the San Bernardino County Hall of Records to become legally married as well, Bob had this to say about the occasion:
I got her a nice bouquet, and it was just a hoot. There were about 35 people there who were asking us why we were there. We told them that we’ve been married, and we brought along a book of all our pictures and showed them off.
Looking back on all of the forty-eight years that they had no contract with the state conferring certain legal rights upon them, Bob and Norma Clark know in their hearts that they were truly married. Take a look for yourself: