Questions From Readers
▪ Does a “Declaration Pledging Faithfulness” in an existing marital relationship have the same permanence as a legalized marriage?
This has reference to the special arrangement granted only in those countries where divorce from a previous mate is not allowed under the law. Christians are appropriately interested in this matter, for God’s Word shows how seriously he views the marital arrangement. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” (Hebrews 13:4) Hence, let us note the sort of situation giving rise to this question:
The truth finds a couple in a marital relationship that cannot be legalized, and yet Christian baptism is desired by one or both of the parties. The declaration is a pledge of faithfulness to this marital relationship until such time as it becomes possible to legalize the union according to the law of the land. The Watchtower of March 15, 1977, page 183, suggested how the declaration might be worded and stated: “Such declaration is viewed as no less binding than one made before a marriage officer representing a ‘Caesar’ government of the world.”—See Jesus’ words at Matthew 22:21.
However, what is the situation if “Caesar” changes the divorce law, as recently happened in Italy? Since it is now possible to obtain a divorce from a previous mate, the baptized Christian living in a marital relationship as covered by the “Declaration Pledging Faithfulness” must immediately take steps, according to the declaration, “to obtain legal recognition of this relationship.” The first step would be to obtain a divorce from the previous mate. The next step would be to have the marriage with the present mate legalized. Even if the present mate is an unbeliever, that one would need to consent to this legalizing of the marriage. If the unbeliever refused to do so, the Christian mate would have to separate in order to maintain an approved standing in the congregation. The reason for this is that the “Declaration Pledging Faithfulness” can no longer be recognized by the congregation as valid, because a way has now been opened up for legal marriage.
However, when that way opens up and the two actually do get married, such legal marriage is binding permanently, in contrast to the “Declaration Pledging Faithfulness,” which was a solemn interim arrangement.