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April 25, 2011

Question: How important is it that people marry within their own faith?

 Bahá’í law permits Bahá’ís to marry non-Bahá’ís. In a faith that recognizes the divine foundation of all the great religions, that condemns religious prejudice, and encourages interfaith harmony, it would be inconsistent for Bahá’ís to be forbidden to marry outside their religion. 

But certain stipulations apply. Bahá’ís are required to have a Bahá’í ceremony on the same day that any other marriage ceremony is performed. Bahá’ís must not sign an agreement that would require them to raise their children exclusively in the religion of the spouse, nor does the Bahá’í have the right to insist that the children be raised as Bahá’ís, if the partner is active in his/her faith. A consultative approach should be used and an amicable, suitable arrangement made. 

Common sense applies. If the individual is active in the Bahá’í community, she should become familiar with the character of the prospective non-Bahá’í spouse, and attempt to ascertain beforehand how open the future partner would be to having a wife who will be a regular participant in Bahá’í activities. Someone who is indifferent or opposed to spiritual life may come to resent the partner’s time spent in community activities or possibly insist at the outset that faith activities be curtailed. This would constitute a potential infringement on freedom of conscience and action. For obvious reasons, this type of union is inadvisable.

At the same time, the Bahá’í partner should not neglect his or her marriage partner because of attendance at Bahá’í activities. Bahá’ís are advised to balance their work, faith and domestic life. Just as family life  should not be neglected in the name of professional activities, nor should it be neglected in the name of religious commitment.

Under no circumstances should one’s commitment to the Bahá’í Faith be a  pretext  for divorcing one’s spouse. But marriage to a non-Bahá’í often presents certain challenges and privations. One cannot share all of the deeper intimacies of the life of faith with one’s partner. Marrying a committed Bahá’í would provide a common foundation of shared values, but sharing a common faith does not guarantee that the marriage will prove successful. Like all good partnerships, marriage requires commitment and work.  - Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen April 25, 2011
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