I have been living with my girlfriend for a long time and we have several children together. We have decided to get married, but she is Catholic, and I am Protestant. She suggests that we get married twice to avoid conflicts, once in each church, but I’m not so sure about that. What do you recommend that I do?
It is a wise decision to seek counsel before making such an important decision. As you have discovered, there are several aspects to consider.
First, we want to congratulate you on the decision to get married. Although some people believe that marriage is just a written contract or an excuse to have a party, we believe that marriage can be compared to the foundation of a building. When you make vows to one another, you are pledging to lay a foundation for all that is to come. You are assuring the other person, as well as your children, of your commitment to the relationship.
Couples who live together without being married are keeping their options open. They may not want to commit for fear of a potential future divorce, or they may not believe that commitment can last for a lifetime.
If you didn’t have children, we would ask you to decide what kind of church you intend to attend with your children. But since you already have children and are not taking them to church, it appears that you haven’t made a decision about that either.
It might surprise you to know that we have four married children and not one of them was married in a church. Each one of them chose to be married outdoors by a minister, with a backdrop of God’s creation, rather than to be married in a building built by human hands.
Though the leaders of some churches insist that you must be married in their building to make your marriage valid, the Bible doesn’t say anything about where marriages should take place. We have attended weddings in homes, in hotels, in parks, and even a beachfront. The important factor is not the place where you say your vows, but rather whether you are saying your vows to God as well as to each other.
Just as going to church doesn’t make a person holy, getting married in a building doesn’t make a marriage blessed or holy either. God doesn’t look on where you go to church or where you get married; He looks at your heart. Is your heart committed to Him? Have you asked Him to forgive your sins and to help you live in the way that He wants you to live?
We suggest that you search on the Internet for the differences in Catholic and Protestant beliefs. (We are not going to suggest a specific website because we believe it is not wise for us to endorse the validity or reliability of one website over another in this matter.) You and your girlfriend should go through each belief and talk about the differences. It is very possible that one or both of you have never really examined the beliefs that you claim to have. Discussing it could help you to make some decisions about who you will ask to officiate your wedding ceremony and what church you might begin to attend with your children.
We wish you well,