Marriage and Family Life
Bahá'ís understand that the family is the basic unit of society. Unless this all-important building block is healthy and unified, society itself cannot be healthy and unified. Monogamous marriage stands at the foundation of family life.
Bahá'u'lláh said marriage is "a fortress for well-being and salvation." The Bahá'í writings further state that married couples should strive to become "loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity..."
Bahá'ís view preparation for marriage as an essential element in ensuring a happy marriage. The process of preparation includes a requirement for parental approval of the choice of a spouse. This does not mean that Bahá'í marriages are arranged. Individuals propose marriage to the persons of their own choice. However, once the choice is made, the parents have both the right and the obligation to weigh carefully whether to give consent to, and thus guide, their offspring in one of life's most important decisions.
Bahá'ís believe that this requirement helps to preserve unity within the marriage--and within the extended family. As did previous Messengers of God, Bahá'u'lláh asks His followers to honor their parents. Obtaining parental permission for marriage reaffirms the importance of the bond between child and parent. It also helps to create a supportive network of parents in the often difficult first years of a marriage.
Simple vows and ceremony
Once parental permission is obtained, the marriage takes place, requiring only the simplest of ceremonies. In the presence of two witnesses designated by the local Bahá'í governing council, the couple recites the following verse: "We will all, verily, abide by the will of God." For Bahá'ís, that simple commitment to live by God's will implies all of the commitments associated with marriage, including the promises to love, honor, and cherish; to care for each other regardless of material health or wealth; and to share with and serve each other.
Beyond these simple requirements, Bahá'ís are free to design their own marriage celebration. Depending on personal tastes, family resources, and cultural traditions, Bahá'í ceremonies run the gamut from small to large, including all manner of music, dance, dress, food and festivity.
As in most religions, the marriage vow is considered sacred in the Bahá'í Faith. The partners are expected to be absolutely faithful to each other.
The Faith's emphasis on the equality of women and men, however, and its promotion of consultation as a tool for problem-solving mean that the roles of husband and wife within a Bahá'í marriage are not the traditional ones. Women are free to pursue careers that interest them; men are expected to share in household duties and child-rearing.
So-called "interracial marriage" is also encouraged in the Bahá'í teachings, which stress the essential oneness of the human race.
Divorce is allowed but discouraged
If a Bahá'í marriage fails, divorce is permitted, although it is strongly discouraged. If Bahá'ís choose to seek a divorce, they must spend at least one year living apart and attempting to reconcile. If a divorce is still desired after that year, it is then granted, dependent on the requirements of civil law. This "year of patience," as it is known to Bahá'ís, is supervised by the local Spiritual Assembly, the local Bahá'í governing council.
The key purpose of Bahá'í marriage--beyond physical, intellectual and spiritual companionship--is children. Bahá'ís view child-rearing not only as a source of great joy and reward, but as a sacred obligation. While stating firmly that women must enjoy full equality with men, Bahá'u'lláh's teachings also recognize explicitly the innate differences between the feminine and masculine natures--both physical and emotional. Bahá'ís understand, accordingly, that mothers have a special role to play in the early education of children--especially during the first few years of life when the basic values and character of every individual is formed.
Since Bahá'ís believe that the soul appears at the moment of conception, the parents pray for the well-being of the unborn child while it is still in the womb. Education in general, and Bahá'í education in particular are of paramount importance in Bahá'í families. From their earliest years, the children are encouraged to develop the habits of prayer and meditation, and to acquire knowledge, both intellectual and spiritual.