When Law of the Land Differs from the Law of God -Voidable Marriage

Brother Jun Patricio asks, “If the law of the land differs from the laws of God, what will be our position?” Ipagpatuloy natin ang mga possible angles na tinutukoy ni kapatid Jun.

Brother Jun refuses to go into any specific Philippine law which he believes differs or contradicts God’s laws so I’m forced to keep on guessing.

We here submit a second case where the law of the land differs from the laws of God: Marriage Annulment

Our Philippine laws use the terms “legal separation” and “marriage annulment” while the Bible uses the term “divorce.” Deuteronomy 24:1-4 grants divorce in the OT. However there were two Jewish schools of thought on the interpretation of this passage. One school says that divorce may be granted when a complaint is filed and proven on the sole ground of adultery; the second school of thought says that divorce may be granted when a complaint is filed and proven based on any “shameful” or anything that is considered “uncleanness”.

Our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 19:1-12 recognizes divorce only on the ground of “adultery.” At the time of our Lord’s earthly sojourn, only husbands could initiate divorce and the general practice was that husbands had a ready document on file which a man could easily draw out and affixed his signature and just hand it over to the wife without any investigation.

It is understood by many Bible students that the innocent party in a properly litigated divorce case is allowed to remarry without sinning.  But the guilty party is understood not to have the same right to remarry. Anyone who marries the guilty party in the divorce case commits adultery.

Divorce is not in Philippine jurisprudence, but it is found in the Bible. This is one where the law of the land differs from the law of God. Will the local congregation insist on arrogating to itself the right to pronounce a certain person as “divorced” with the right to remarry while the law of the land does not recognize divorce?

In the old Civil Code of the Philippines there is a provision of a “legal separation.”  This law recognizes a valid and consummated marriage, but because of spousal incompatibility on one or several grounds, the law grants that the husband and wife are not forced to stay together. They are allowed to separate “bed and board.” They are not expected to share one bed as a couple and are not expected to live in the same house as husband and wife. But the marriage bond continues to exist.

On the other hand, in the Philippine Family Code, there is the term “Marriage Annulment.” This code enumerates several legal bases for a formal declaration of marriage nullity which are the following:

1. Lack of parental consent of a party below the age of 21 years;

2. Insanity of any party or when any party is of unsound mind;

3. Fraud, force, intimidation or undue influence in obtaining the consent of any party;

4. Continuous or incurable physical incapacity of any party to copulate or consummate the marriage;

5. Affliction of any party with a serious and incurable sexually transmissible disease.

Bible students in the Churches of Christ believe that when a man and a woman who are legally issued a license to contract marriage are pronounced “husband and wife” by a duly authorized person to solemnize marriage, the marriage bond is deemed to exist. On the other hand, the Philippine Family Code presumes an unconsummated marriage because the parties could apply for annulment should any party chooses to question the marriage contract. Marriage remains tentative and unconsummated although copulation repeatedly happens

I say “unconsummated marriage” or “tentative marriage” because both parties in the marriage contract can always invoke any of the above five reasons to annul the marriage. The term “annulment” is understood to be a formal declaration of an infirmity ab initio, that from the very initial stage there was a legal impediment to a legal marriage hence there was no perfected marriage. This impediment is resurrected in a later period and submitted to a court of law that may recognize such impediment and so gives a formal pronouncement of a void marriage ab initio. Meaning, the court of law will agree with the parties that indeed there was an existing obstacle which did not consummate the marriage bond. In this case there has never been a consummated marriage existing from the very beginning.

Strict determination of the presence or absence of any or all of the five reasons enumerated above should be done during the required premarital counseling period and not when the marriage bond has already been irreparably cracked. Application for a marriage license should give the burden of proof to the applying parties to satisfy with legal and medical evidences that the bases of voidable marriage are not present in their case. Preachers are enjoined to include in their Bible lessons on courtship and marriage about the five bases of annulable marriages. We should tell our church members not to rush into marriage. Sufficient time should be given for observation about the prospective partner’s soundness of mind, presence of transferable sexual disease, normal and healthy sexual life. Above all, marriage should be based on love and mutual attraction as the basis of the vow to “love and adore each other in sickness or in health, till death do us part.”

Malachi 2:14-16 says, “You cry out, ‘Why has the LORD abandoned us?’ I’ll tell  you why! Because the LORD witnessed the vows you and your wife made to each other on your wedding day when you were young. But you have been disloyal to her, though she remained your faithful companion, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard yourself; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. ‘For I hate divorce!’ says the LORD, the God of Israel. ‘It is as cruel as putting on a victim’s bloodstained coat,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘So guard yourself; always remain loyal to your wife.’” (New Living Translation) This same attitude pervaded in the time of our Lord on earth. Husbands freely discarded their wives although the wives were faithful companions previously joined with vows of fidelity.

Vows of love and fidelity are pronounced during the marriage ceremony among the Israelites. Same is true in our society. Today’s marriage ceremonies duly solemnized and voluntarily entered into with solemn vows uttering the famous line “in sickness and in health till death do us part” should be deemed consummated upon pronouncement of “you are now husband and wife” by the authorized officer. Annulment of marriage, therefore, seems not in consonance with biblical morality. The law of the land differs from the law of God.  What then is our stand?

Do we allow a church member whose spouse loses sound mind due to an accident or has alzheimers’ disease to file for annulment of marriage? If due to a vehicular accident or due to a sickness like diabetes or stroke a spouse loses ability to copulate, do we allow the partner who is a church member to file for annulment of marriage?  Do we allow a member to use lack of parental consent as a basis to file for annulment of marriage after living together with the spouse twenty years?

Eusebio A. Tanicala, Ph.D.