Goffs School Religious Studies

Topic 3 – Marriage and the Family


  • Cohabitation – living together without being married
  • Adultery- an act of sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than their marriage partner.
  • Divorce – the legal ending of a marriage
  • Monogamy – marriage to one partner only
  • Polygamy – marriage to more than one partner at a time
  • Serial monogamy – being married to only one person at a time, but divorcing and remarrying several times.
  • Nuclear family – mother, father and children living as a unit
  • Extended family – grandparents / aunts/ /uncles living as a unit (or living very close and having a lot of contact) with mother, father and children.
  • One-parent family – where there has been a separation, divorce or death, and only one of the parents is involved in bringing up the children.

Social facts

Many more couples now live together before getting married (in 1971 only 7% of couples lived together before marriage; in 1989, 48%).

Fewer people are getting married (450,000 people married in the UK in 1971, but only 299,000 in 1993).

Many more marriages end in divorce (25,000 divorces in 1961; 165,000 in 1991).

There could be many reasons for the rise in divorces:

  • it is easier and cheaper to divorce;
  • people live longer and have more leisure time, so they spend longer time together, which makes them bored with each other;
  • women are less prepared to put up with bad treatment from their husbands than they used to be.

The rise in the number of divorces means that there are many more one-parent families and many people think children need to be brought up by two parents.

Changes in jobs means that people have to travel around the country looking for work, which tends to break up the extended family. This means that parents get less help from relatives in bringing up their children.


Sex outside marriage

Most Christians believe that sex should only take place in marriage and that sex before marriage and adultery are both wrong.

They base this on the teachings of the Bible (e.g. the seventh commandment which forbids adultery) and the teachings of church leaders like the Pope.

A few Christians believe sex before marriage is all right as long as: the couple love one another; they are in long-term loving relationship; they intend to marry eventually.

This view is based on Jesus teachings about love.


Christians regard marriage as a gift from God, but they do not have to marry.

The reasons for Christian marriage are: to live together in love; to have lawful sex; to have comfort and companionship; to have children; to create a Christian family.

The main features of a Christian wedding were: exchange of vows (promises) before God and witnesses; exchange of rings, blessed by God; prayers, Bible readings on marriage, a sermon or talk on the duties of marriage.

Christian marriage is for life, a vow (promise) in the marriage service says, to love and to cherish till death parts us


Some Christians (especially Roman Catholics) believe there can be no divorce because Jesus banned divorced and when you marry you make promises to God which cannot be broken without God’s consent; the vows are also promises that cannot be broken. According to God’s law, therefore, a couple can never be divorced. This also rules out re-marriage.

Moreover, marriage is a sacrament (holy ritual) and cannot be broken. For example, the Bible states, ““What God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). The Gospel of Mark also says divorce is always wrong, but the Gospel of Matthew suggests a man can divorce his wife is she is unfaithful“I tell you that any who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).

Some Christians (mainly Protestants) believe that, if a marriage goes wrong and there is no chance of bringing the couple back together, then they can divorce, because God is always prepared to forgive our sins if we are determined to live a new life. The Church of England has allowed re-marriage since 1981, but only if the vicar agrees.  Quakers also allow re-marriage.

Although the Catholic church does not allow divorce, it does allow annulment. This is where the marriage is seen as void; for some reason it should never have taken place. Perhaps one of the couple where concealing homosexuality; perhaps they were forced into the marriage; they may have been mentally unstable at the time of the marriage; they could even have been intoxicated when the vows where said. In past infertility could have been considered a reason for annulment.

Family life

All Christians believe that children should be brought up in a family with a mother and father (unless one of them has died).

Christian marriage services refer to one of the major purposes of marriage as founding a family and bringing up children in a Christian environment.

Children are seen as a gift from God, and parents are expected to look after then properly and help them to be Christians. Children are expected to respect their parents (the fifth commandment) and care for them when they are old.

How churches help with a family life

Most churches have infant baptism, where parents dedicate their children to God and make promises to bring them up in a loving Christian home.

Churches which have believers baptism (you are baptised when you are old enough to decide for yourself) rather that infant baptism, have dedication services where similar promises are made.

The services, promises and prayers are intended to help parents in bringing up their children.

Churches run Sunday Schools, uniformed organisations (cubs, brownies, boys and girls brigades etc.) and youth clubs. There are also Church schools which provide a Christian education.

Churches also have family services and special services at Christmas ad Easter to bring families together.

Ministers / vicars / priests also act as marriage and family counsellors and some churches (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church) run their own marriage and family guidance service.


Sex in Buddhism

Remember the third precept: abstain for sexual misconduct!

The third precept on avoiding abstaining from sensual pleasures, includes sexual misconduct. A Buddhist should be mindful of the possible effects on themselves and on others of improper sexual activity.

This effects the fourth precept of not taking what is not freely given would include adultery because this is also breeched. A relationship with someone who is committed to another is stealing.

Similarly in cases of rape and child abuse, one is stealing the dignity and self respect of another. One is also the cause of mental pain, not to mention physical pain so one is causing harm to another living being. Therefore, such behaviour is breaking several precepts, including the first precept: not to harm living things.

Homosexuality in Buddhism

Unlike other faiths, Buddhist makes no explicit commendation of homosexuality. Although some Buddhist groups see heterosexual marriage for lay people as the norm, most Buddhists make no distinction between homosexual and heterosexual partnerships. However, the third precept applies to both.

Homosexual acts amongst monks & nuns would lead to expulsion for breaking the vinaya precepts.

Marriage in Buddhism

Buddhism is not directly involved in marriage ceremonies as marriage is seen as non-religious.

Marriage is not a sacrament in Buddhism as it is in other religions. Marriage is governed by civil law and a Buddhist is expected to observe the prevailing law in whatever country they live.

In some traditions, monks are prohibited by their Vinaya (monks) rules to encourage or perform a marriage ceremony.

The Vinaya says that should a Bhikkhu engage to act as a go-between for a man’s intentions to a woman or a woman’s intentions to a man, even for a temporary arrangement.

However, marriage is not seen as bad for lay people and monks can bless the couple at wedding ceremonies.

In many Buddhist countries, the couple will, following their marriage in a civil ceremony, invite the monks to their home to perform a blessing ceremony. They will offer food and other requisites to the monks and invite their family and friends to participate.

Importantly, a marriage must involve good karma and metta to work. The 5 precepts of  avoiding from harm, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech and intoxication must be kept. The 3 poisons (greed, hatred and ignorance) must also be avoided.

The Buddha also gave marriage advice to a man called Sigala. The Buddha said he should:

  1. Take care of his family (respect them, educate them, look after them)‏
  2. Make a success of his marriage (the relationship should be equal)‏
  3. Choose the right friends (avoid those who are a bad influence)‏

He also told Sigala to avoid:

•Wasting time and money
•Roaming the streets at night
•Going to fairs and festivals
•Mixing with a bad crowd
•Being idle (lazy)

Divorce in Buddhism

The legal status of marriage is not really important in the greater scheme of things. If a couple love each other and show loving kindness (metta) and compassion (karuna), then the karma will be beneficial to both. Divorce would be seen as the relationship’s ‘rebecoming’ through negative karma. As everything is impermanent (annica), divorce is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing.

However, cultural values in particular Buddhist countries may bestow a negative label to divorce.

Of course, the precepts apply here and if a Buddhist follows what is right action, a relationship will be stronger. If any of the five precept are broken (harm, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech and intoxication), divorce may result.

The three poisons of greed, hatred and ignorance could also result in divorce as they ‘poison’ relationships.

Family Life in Buddhism

The Buddha is recorded in the Pali Canon giving advice to a young man Sigala about running a good household and maintaining good relationships with people. Sigala should:

  1. Take care of his family (respect them, educate them, look after them)‏
  2. Make a success of his marriage (the relationship should be equal)‏
  3. Choose the right friends (avoid those who are a bad influence)‏
  4. Have a good relationship with your teachers
  5. Have a good relationship with your employer or employees

This suggests family life is important as Sigala will be able to provide for the family.

As above, a Buddhist should also follow the 5 precepts to have a good family life and avoid the three poisons. Doing this will create good karma for all the family.


Although non-religious people believe marriage is intended for life, most would approve of divorce in the case of marriage break down. They may think, however, that a divorce should be difficult to obtain.

REASONS for this attitude might be:

  1. if there is no love left in a marriage, this will cause suffering both to the partners and to the children, who may be upset by rows between their parents;
  2. if a mother and father have devoted themselves to each other and to the upbringing of the children then they deserve some protection from the law. Without this, people might be discouraged from devoting themselves to bringing up children, and society would suffer.

Remember non-religious includes:secular, agnostic, atheist and Humanist viewpoints