Friday, October 14, 2011

Temporary Marriages

What do you guys think of the idea?

I know, modern, secular times who would even bother, right? If you want to live with someone and have sex, you just do. It's a non-issue unless you come from a highly religious background or live in a very religious area.

But I'm thinking about it in the context of religion.

I know that in Islam there's the concept/practice of mut'ah nikah. I've hardly studied it in depth or anything because I don't have a horse in that race, but the basic idea as I understand it is that it is something that is permitted in Shi'a but not Sunni practices. The idea is that a man may take a wife for a limited, specific amount of time so that he does not commit the sin of zina. So a man goes off to war or on a long trip or what have you and his wife does not come with him. He finds himself *unbearably* in need of the ability to have regular sex. Rather than just find a woman and have sex with her (implying seduction, rape or simple prostitution) he finds a woman and marries her. But before they're married there is the understanding and (I believe) a contract that the marriage is only to be for, let's say four months. And he will pay her mahr and then they're married for the four months, with almost all the same rights and obligations as a permanent marriage. At the end of the four months they separate, no divorce necessary and life moves on.

There's some controversy about this because some claim that the practice was made haram, etc. etc. And there is some criticism of it because it doesn't seem to be very different from prostitution. *holds up hands* I know it's not viewed as the same thing at all by Muslims who believe that it's permitted. I'm just saying, from the other angle that it *resembles* it in many ways. There are also many ways that it differs - a large one being that provision is made for the possibility of children from the mut'ah nikah which is clearly not the case in prostitution.

In a similar vein there was a little furor a week or two back about Mexico (I believe) allowing temporary marriages. These would be marriage licenses with an expiration date of a year (or possibly whatever the couple wanted). There is also the historic practice of marriage only lasting a year and a day. This was practiced by the Norse tribes, as I recall and probably many others. The marriage could be renewed every year.

Okay. I can hear you wondering why in the hell I'm thinking about these things.

Well. I don't have any problems with these concepts. Different cultures, times, etc. I might not enter into such an arrangement, but I don't judge the people who do. However, I just recently found out that one of the men who works at our office told someone else that he 'gets married whenever he wants to have sex'. And this bothers me and makes me think less of him. So why should that be? If I have not issues with other kinds of temporary marriages, why do his actions bother me?

Two reasons: the hypocrisy and the deceit.

Hypocrisy - This is a man who claims to be a sincere and practicing Christian. He has made statements that express his heavy disapproval of those who engage in premarital sex. He's polite about it, but he's *judgy*.

Now there are, as there are in so many, many things differing opinions on the permissibility of divorce in Christian circles. They range from those who believe that divorce is never, ever on option to those who allow divorce without any penalties. But it is (I believe) universally understood within Christianity that it is not the normal state of things. That it is not what God desires for people. That it is *frowned upon* if nothing else.

But here is a man who judges others by his version/understanding of Christianity who marries and divorces with seeming disregard for the deeper meaning of what marriage is supposed to be. He is abusing what the marriage, from a Christian religious view point, means.

Deceit - I don't think that any of the five women he has been married to knew that he viewed the marriage as just a legal/moral way for him to have sex. I think that they were deceived as to what the marriage would entail.

So that's my problem. If both of the people were entering into the marriage with the same idea of the purpose and what it would entail, no problem. And if he were less of a 'better than you' kind of person, if wouldn't bother me as much most likely.


  1. *applauds*

    Personally, I refuse to put forever into my marriage vows, but I'm also not planning to say it's fora certain length of time. We're getting married because it's simpler for legal reasons, and if that ever becomes not the case and we decide we shouldn't be married anymore, I don't have a problem with divorce. Of course, there's a difference because for me it's a legal rather than religious deal.

    I also sort of don't understand the dislike of divorce from a Christian perspective, though. I understand that it's not the ideal, but if marriage is supposed to be something holy and somehow revealing God's love, I think it's much worse to continue a marriage that is full of hate and only existing because divorce is bad. I know that is not really at all what you're talking about here, but I think "the sanctity of marriage" really needs to be re-examined. If it's a sacrament, there needs to be some serious thought and teaching about what that actually means and what conditions make marriage a sacrament rather than an abomination.

    (The guy you know reminds me of someone who tried to date and marry my roommate a couple years ago. She used to go to online Christian dating sites a lot and try to meet boyfriends...unsurprisingly (imo), she met a lot of jerks and creeps. This one guy said he married women to "save them from singleness" (whatever that means). Then after a few years together, they divorced so he could go "save" somebody else. ...Wow.

  2. The radical feminist Shulamith Firestone suggested that all family units be based on temporary contracts (she suggests 7 years) after which all involved (including children!) will renogotiate and decide if they want to stay a unit. I kind of like that idea. I would support temporary marriage if it wasn't just there to meet men's needs. -Zuhura

  3. My issue with it is more of what it does to the women in the cultures in which it is permissible. A woman temporarily marries and guess what. She is NEVER marrying permanently because she is used goods. In fact, many of the Muslim men I know said they wouldn't even marry a previously ENGAGED woman because she was already interacting with a non-maharam man as more than friends. And there is no sex involved with that! So my issue is what it does to the women in the culture. I personally think its no more moral than sex before marriage. Actually sex before marriage in a committed loving relationship I feel would be far more moral than temporary marriage just for sex.

  4. Oh, those kinds of people are irritating! Yes, it seems he is judgy (I like this word) of premarital sex, but divorce is OK. It's great how we pick and choose which "sins" are OK and which are worthy of our "judgy" looks.

    Not that I ever do this... *ahem*


    Enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Yes, you can't say you believe sex should be saved for marriage and then just redefine/cheapen marriage so you can get around the inconvenience! It's hypocritical.

    Marriage was originally supposed to be a commitment to a shared life and as far as I know it's still best for children to be raised in that kind of stable situation. Marriages do sometimes have to end but I don't like the idea of us becoming blase about it. I would much rather people just accept sex before marriage rather than water down the ideal of marriage.

  6. sanil,

    Are you guys writing your own marriage vows?

    And are you having a ceremony or just a party?

    This has nothing to do with the point of the post, I'm just being nosy now!

    I think the difficulty, even with purely legal/secular marriages is that even if you go in thinking that 'we could decide not to be married anymore' at some point, the emotions get involved. We're raised, still, with the idea that the ideal marriage is one that lasts until death. And losing that is hard on a lot of people. But that's just my opinion and it is changing with the times of course. :)

    I think that the problem, from the Christian perspective, is that it's looked at as being a joining by God. So divorce is almost saying/thinking that God made a mistake or that these people are going against God's wishes. Personally I agree that marriage needs to be reexamined. There seem to be these two extremes: that people marry and divorce like they change clothes and that people stick together through all sorts of crap, ruining whatever feelings they had for one another in the first place. And I think *both* come from this lingering idea that marriage is the ideal state of being. Certainly there are legal benefits to it but I think a lot of people who get married do so because of pressure from their families.

  7. Zuhura,

    Huh. At what age do the kids get a vote?

    I kind of like the idea of reevaluating the family every so often, but letting the kids have a say so seems sort of...disaster in the making to me. What if you catch the kids on a day where they hate everyone?

    My issue with temporary marriages (apart from the problem that LK points out) is this, really: it assumes that men have so little self control that they can't go without sex for any amount of time. What's wrong with just telling them to keep it in their pants? Or if they can't do that, to take care of it themselves for a while? And that would extend to women too, by the way.

  8. LK,

    I didn't mean for it to sound like my problem with temporary marriage was the deceit and the hypocrisy. Those are my problems with this specific man.

    For temporary marriage, I'd agree with your problem with it. But that's a cultural attitude and it's all tied into the idea that virginity is such a freaking prize. But it's only a prize as long as it's the woman, you know? Men are *told* to stay virgin until marriage, but everyone sort of winks and nods at them while they do it. In places where people still care about this anyway...

  9. Susanne,

    I have never managed to use the line, "Shut up, I'm busy judging you!" but I really, really want to!

    We all judge people. That's normal, even if it's not very nice. It's the total blindness to the fact that he's doing the same damn thing only 'legally'.

  10. We are writing our own vows. Still sort of going back and forth over the whole ceremony part. On the one hand, I don't think my mom would like the party without the ceremony, she'd maybe be less likely to support it. On the other hand, there's no way any ceremony we have is going to make her happy anyway. She wants me to get married in a church by a minister...and I just can't see a minister she'd approve being ok with marrying a pagan and an atheist. :D So we'll have to keep talking about that and trying to figure out what works for us.

    Emotions absolutely get involved! I don't imagine that we're every goin to just say "Oh, sweetie, I was looking at our bills and these pro-con lists, and you know what? I think we really should just let it go. Sign here?" :D But I think the reason divorces are so often filled with anger and so hard on people is because they make the marriage the be-all end-all of relationships. There is this aversion to ending them, even if neither party still really wants to be involved. I think that going into it with an understanding that our friendship is more important than its legal status, we can keep re-evaluating and figure out what to do so that our family stays together and keeps caring about each other, regardless of what that looks like in terms of papers and housing and whatever else.

    Society does have the idea that marriage lasts forever, and that might be hard to overcome. On the other hand, people often behave in ways contrary to social pressure. I've seen marriage destroy enough families that I haven't seen marriage as an ideal or an eternal commitment since I was a fairly young child. But it varies from person to person, obviously, and my way of looking at it wouldn't (and maybe shouldn't) work for everyone.

  11. Sarah,

    The best/worst part is that I don't think he sees it as cheapening marriage. I think he thinks this is the way it's supposed to work.

    And having been the child of a marriage that went on way the hell too long, in part because of 'the children', I say just get the fucking divorce already. It's rough on the kids, but it's not as hard as living in an emotional (and sometimes physical) war zone.

    If it's a good marriage it's better for the kids, sure. But if it's a good cohabitation it's better for the kids too. A marriage certificate/ceremony is not the thing that makes it good for the children. It's the parents.

  12. Praise the Lord. Temporary marriage is by nature an oxymoron. If you are going to be one with someone, then you can't split up.

    I mean, it's one thing if you find out that you never were really one in the first place, because it turns out, for example, that while your spouse gave lip service to the idea of 'leaving father and mother', the way that looks in practice is that they run home to Mommy and Daddy whenever things get a wee bit rough, or allow their parents to take an undue interest in your affairs and interfere in your marriage. Or if you find out on your fifth wedding anniversary that your spouse treated the relationship from the beginning as a financial transaction the object of which was to provide financial support for them (this really happened to an old acquaintance of mine).

    I think in that kind of case, it could be viewed as even obligatory to split up, because it was not a real marriage, so what you were doing was fornication all along. That's why it's SO important to make sure the relationship is real beforehand, that there are no obstacles. That's why it's such a great idea to talk about the important stuff before you get emotionally involved. Or else refrain from dating until the feelings cool down sufficiently that they are not your prime motivating force. And another good reason for waiting in that kind of situation is that God and only God is supposed to be the prime motivating force for everything we do.

    I realize that not everyone reading this agrees with that last sentence. But we were talking about that supposedly Christian guy, who in principle should hold to that view, but apparently doesn't...

  13. Yes, I agree about cohabitation - by "marriage" I don't necessarily mean formal marriage but any commitment to a shared life.

    And I totally agree about divorce being the best thing for the kids sometimes too. But not all divorces are like that. For example I've heard Muslims defending men's polygamy right by saying that no woman has to stay married to a man who takes another wife. So she can get a divorce and that's it problem solved... um, no. It bothers me that some people can view divorce as being as easy and inconsequential as that.

  14. Sarah,

    Ah, okay! That makes more sense coming from you! :)

    That's true! Divorce is not a cure all, nor in many cases should it be the first recourse.

    Really, what it boils down to is that I think people need to be more careful about who they choose to 'marry', whether that's in a legal sense, a religious sense, or just moving in with one another under the idea of a lifelong commitment. Too many people get caught up in the 'love' and that burns out really fast.

    Ugh. Divorce is *never* simple and it's *never* easy. Once you're tied that closely to another person they're with you to one degree or another until one of you is dead. Add in children and...well. It's messy.

    People need to be more choosy and not rush into cohabitating relationships.

  15. caraboska,

    I forgot to say, it's nice to see you again! :D

    And I agree with you. If we're only looking at it from a Christian perspective (since the man in question claims that affiliation), there can be no such thing as a temporary marriage. Christians are supposed to enter into a marriage with the idea and the intention that it should last until one or both of them have died, but that's where the whole 'not a real marriage' issue can crop up.

    People, in general, no matter what their faith, need to be more careful about who they marry. I think that everyone needs to *talk* about practical things before they get married, but many don't because they're caught up in the romance of it all. Which is nice, but it fades. That's partially why I think the best marriages, the ones that really last are the ones where the couple is friends first.

    That being said, even if all the right things are in place at the time of the marriage, people can change. Sometimes divorce is necessary and there is allowance made for that in the Bible so I don't hold with those Christians who don't allow for divorce at all. It's a sad thing, just as it is in any relationship, and not something to be used willynilly, but it is sometimes necessary and permitted. Cause honestly, sometimes it's either divorce the man, or kill him. :)

  16. Good post. I disagree with temporary marriage, because marriage isn't MEANT to be temporary. Yes, divorce does happen -- my parents each have multiple marriages/divorces, and I'm darn glad they didn't stay together just because of me and my brother. That would have been one heck of a miserable household, let me tell ya.

    The Qur'an states in 4:25 "...You shall marry them with the permission of their parents and give them their dowries in kindness; to be independent, not for illicit sex or taking lovers...". Marriage is NOT to be undertaken solely to satisfy lust. Temporary marriage has no purpose BUT sex, therefore it violates the Qur'an's instructions regarding marriage.

  17. Amber, I agree -- the men SHOULD be told to keep it in their pants. Men are not animals. They have self-control. If they don't want to, then, to be frank, they should *ahem* take matters into their own hands, so to speak. Yes, a little inappropriate of me to mention, but certainly a better solution than to ruin a woman's respectability in cultures where virginity is the be-all/end-all of a woman's reputation. Temporary marriage is no less objectification than prostitution or other such unsavory things.

  18. Hi Heather!

    Thanks for weighing in!

    I tend to agree with you that a marriage entered solely for the sake of being 'allowed' to have sex without getting in trouble with a god is essentially prostitution.

    But, of course, that's not the case for most people who marry and then divorce. I actually kind of like the idea of having a marriage that lasts x number of years with the people having the understanding and expectation that they will, at the end of that contract sit down and renegotiate or not renew.

  19. I didn't know the comment thread had picked up until I saw this linked on Muslim Feminists on facebook. Re: Shulamith Firestone's idea, I don't remember at what age she thinks kids should vote. She thinks kids are oppressed in much the same way that women are and that all families should be chosen rather than biological (i.e. kids should be created through artificial means, not in women's bodies). So I think she would go for even 7 year old kid voting, though I'm not sure she spells it out in that much detail. Anyway, I didn't mean I necessarily agreed with that part of her idea, but I definitely like the idea of people renogotiating their relationships consciously after a set period of time.

    Marriage for many Muslims is already about getting "legal" access to sex, so I don't see how temporary marriage cheapens things. It at least gives the woman some rights if she gets pregnant, etc. From a feminist perspective I think the institution of marriage in most forms is highly problematic; this particular form I think only appears more problematic than others because it so closely resembles prostitution. But really, the institution of marriage as a whole resembles prostitution. (Which is not to say that any one marriage in particular resembles prostitution; I hope that distinction is clear.) -Zuhura

  20. Interesting thoughts and comments... the problem isn't marriage as much as it is the aversion to any kind of commitment at all in a post-modern world of nebulousness, where there is no right or wrong, just what feels correct at any given moment. In other words, it is a mere symptom of a larger moral issue, in my opinion... As far as "temporary" marriages, maybe it would work since everyone would be less likely to be ungrateful and take the other person for granted, but I think that adds an additional tension point and married people really don't need more stressors. I could see it turning into a very bad case of brinkmanship every three years and "renegotiation" with the kids...??? please, I do not negotiate with terrorists! :-)

  21. Zuhura,

    Yeah. My face was like this: O.O when I saw that they'd linked to it. I had to resist the urge to duck and cover...

    Oh, I didn't think that you were totally agreeing with her or anything. I thought you were just putting it out there as a similar sort of idea. I really like the renegotiation/review every couple of years, though I don't fall for the whole 'children are oppressed' thing. I know that there *are* oppressed children out there but I don't think they're oppressed just by being treated as children. They don't have the emotional (or any kind) maturity that they'll have as adults. I get so irritated at parents who treat their kids like they're equals. They're not. They're *children* and you're the parent. You're in charge. It's kind of like training a dog...

    *laughs* And yes, I know that sounds kind of bad. But then, I don't have children so I get to talk from the peanut gallery!

    all families should be chosen rather than biological (i.e. kids should be created through artificial means, not in women's bodies)

    But whose choice is that? How is that different from a couple deciding to have a child in the woman's womb? The kid still doesn't get a choice as to whether or not they're conceived, etc. so I'm not sure what the point of it all being artificial is. *scratches head*

    If you're looking at marriage as merely a business transaction or 'legal' access to sex, then temporary or 'permanent' (since we know marriages are not inherently permanent) there's no real different. And I think that, as a prostitution substitution temporary marriage in the Islamic sense has the advantage of having rules and having a system in place for the children of such unions. But the attitude, as I have seen it, of the Muslim world makes it seem cheap. They seem to simultaneously see marriage as a business contract in many senses but also as something higher. And the prize placed on virginity of the female (an attitude not restricted to Muslims alone of course) makes the women who participate in such temporary marriages lesser in many peoples eyes. It's a weird sort of contradiction.

    Okay, you're going to have to explain that one to me. How is marriage like prostitution? *thinks* Prostitution is the exchange of sex for money, food, shelter, etc. right? Marriage is the joining of two individuals and their stuff (leaving aside any religious or emotional baggage). So marriage is like a merger and prostitution is more like taking on a subcontractor.

    Historically I can see the point of marriage = prostitution. The parents would basically sell their daughter. But looking at it now I don't think it works that way, at least not in modernized countries anyway...

  22. Chris,

    I don't think the concept of right and wrong has gone out of the world. We're certainly questioning things more because our knowledge base is greater and the world has grown smaller. We're exposed to more and more people who don't think the same as we do, who have valid yet different cultures and beliefs. The narrow view of reality won't hold against all of that.

    As for temporary marriages, I doubt they'd make anyone less ungrateful. You're still living with this person day in and day out. They're going to become part of the scenery to one extent or another at some point! :)

    But I think if the couple was going into it with the knowledge that the marriage was only going to last x number of years and everything was in writing. Such as 'this stuff is mine' and 'that stuff is yours' it would make things *less* stressful in some ways. And for those who want to stay together, there's always that option.

    As for the kids...they don't get votes. Seriously. That's a terrible, terrible idea.

  23. I think the idea that marriage is an equal merger of two people and their stuff is a very recent idea, is still a work in progress, and doesn't work that way in most of the world. It's only recently in the last 50 years or so that women in the United States can have their own bank accounts independent of their husbands; many women are still giving up their names (identities) when they get married. At its core marriage is still the exchange of (ostensibly monogamous) sex for security. If it was just a partnership between equals we wouldn't need to make it a legal transaction. ~Zuhura

  24. Zuhura,

    Marriage as an equal partnership is definitely a new idea. That's what I was trying to say; that the idea of marriage = prostitution is understandable historically (and in other countries) but that the modern definition of marriage doesn't work the same way. Which is a good thing of course.

    It's only been in the last 50 years we could have our own bank accounts? Wow. I did not know that.

    I'm of the opinion women can take their husbands name or not as they like. It's not something I spend a lot of time thinking about really. But is it really a loss of their own identity to take the husbands last name?

    Doesn't the legal angle come in (in a modern context) because of the mingling of property? There's also the government/tax angle.

    Eh. I vote for going back to Norse naming conventions and having marriages not being the governments business in the first place! :)

  25. I see what you're saying but I don't like to collapse "modern" and "Western." Everyone is living in modernity but some are still practicing traditions that we in the West view as not "modern."

    I do think that when women take their husband's name name it implies that the woman's identity is less important than the mans. If was simply a family merger, why not both take an entirely new name? Etc. Of course some couples are starting to do this.

    The mingling of property is what also makes marriage similar to prostitution. In most cases women are gaining access to their husbands' property. It is relatively recently, and in a minority of places the world over, where women have their own property. Even in Islam where women theoretically have the right to own their own property, in practice they are often dependent on their husband's to be breadwinners, are expected to get the husband's permission to work, etc.

    I agree that ideally marriage would not involve the government. This would also open things up for gay marriage.


  26. I wasn't consciously conflating modern with Western, but maybe that is what I was thinking subconsciously. I was using 'modern' in sense I suppose. That while it's not practiced that way everywhere that that's the goal. Not a necessarily Western view of marriage but the view that it should be a partnership of equals (which has not been the Western view for very long and still isn't for many people).

    *nods* I see your point, yes. I've never thought of it that way but, yes. That makes sense. Yet another one of those things that makes perfect sense but that I've never bothered to think about! There're so many of those...

    re: government getting out of marriage. Exactly.

  27. I have to disagree about marriage and prostitution being similar. That view of marriage completely ignores the emotional bonds, the love, the significance of being a family unit. I think it's not primarily about accessing sex or money - although these things are important - it's about partnering up and being a team. In most teams, people do fulfil different, complementary roles. Otherwise there might not be any benefit to teaming up if everyone just does the same thing but together. I am not against equality and not arguing *for* traditional roles, but I don't see why these roles would have to be viewed in the same light as prostitution. There are surely many women who *want* to stay at home with children while the man works to support them, women who would choose that life if they could. There aren't women who want to be prostitutes, on the other hand.

  28. @Sarah, have you seen the stories about Malaysian women teaching each other to be better at sex than prostitutes to please their husbands? In many parts of the world, perhaps especially in Muslim societies, people get married without knowing each other. In orthodox Islam, Muslim men are taught that sex is their right while their responsibility is to provide for their family. Women are taught that sex is both their right and responsibility, but mostly responsibility, and being taken care of by their husbands is her right. Working outside the home requires the husband's permission. This system resembles prostitution, even if not all Muslims will live by this system.

    The emotional bonds you speak of don't need marriage.

  29. @Zuhura, I think it boils down to: some partnerships are more like a business transaction where each is only really looking out for their own interests, trying to get as much as they can out of the arrangement and avoid being screwed over by the other person - i.e., like prostitution, or the kind of marriage you've described in Malaysia - whereas others are loving partnerships, marked out by compassion and altruism, where both do what is best for each other and the partnership as a whole, whatever roles they decide to play in practice. I think what I'm trying to suggest is that love is what makes the difference between the two, not the specific roles that are adopted.

  30. @Sarah, I agree, but all of that is about relationships, not about the institution of marriage. If it was all about love and partnership, gay marriage would be legal.


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