Few life decisions are more momentous than marriage.
So wouldn’t it make sense, once you’ve fallen in love and decided to marry, to seek the support of yours and your partner’s parents?
In the past, parental consent has been a male responsibility—with the man traditionally asking the bride-to-be’s father for his blessing—but Baha’is believe that the equality of men and women calls for a more universal, unity-making process of consent which involves all four parents.
Research has shown that parental approval for a marriage considerably increases the chances of its success. Parents who approve can become supportive allies; and parents who disapprove can become serious and sometimes insurmountable roadblocks.
In most cases, no one knows you better than your parents. They raised you and they probably understand you better than you think they do; their love for you hasn’t made them perfect, but it has given them an insight into your character, your desires, your needs and your goals.
When you marry someone, as the old saying goes, you marry their family, too. Your husband- or wife-to-be usually has deep ties and bonds of love with family members, which means you’ll be seeing and interacting with them often. They can be valuable sources of support not just for the wedding, but for housing or schooling or child-rearing or just the emotional ups and downs of life. Their support for the marriage shows them your respect, and creates a team of people pulling for the couple’s success.
On the other hand, it’s very difficult to overcome the disapproval of a potential spouse’s parents, and make a marriage work despite their objections.
I had a good friend, a roommate in college, who married his high-school sweetheart, despite her parents’ strong opposition to their marriage. His new wife’s parents even took him aside a month before the wedding and strongly advised him to retract his proposal, saying they liked him but didn’t believe their daughter was ready for marriage. My friend asked his fiancé about it, and she rejected her parents’ advice, insisting that they just didn’t understand her. The couple went ahead with their plans, invited more than a thousand guests, expended enormous amounts of time and resources on the wedding—and wound up annulling their marriage thirty days later, when the bride’s parents’ advice proved prescient.
Family unity, especially when two families connect to one another as a result of a loving marriage, can have enormous benefits for everyone. It creates a network of mutual support for the new union. It gives the couple an added incentive to create their own sense of closeness. It reinforces and buttresses the bonds of marriage. It gives in-laws a stake in the success of the relationship, and it draws people closer emotionally.
Those reasons, and many more, provide the background and the basis for the Baha’i law of parental consent:
…marriage is dependent upon the consent of both parties. Desiring to establish love, unity and harmony amidst Our servants, We have conditioned it, once the couple’s wish is known, upon the permission of their parents, lest enmity and rancor should arise amongst them. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 42.
Parental consent for marriage reflects the primary Baha’i principles of love and unity:
Consequently when the people of Baha desire to enter the sacred union of marriage, eternal connection and ideal relationship, spiritual and physical association of thoughts and conceptions of life must exist between them, so that in all the grades of existence and all the worlds of God this union may continue forever and ever, for this real union is a splendor of the light of the love of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 372.
So when you’re thinking about popping the question and tying the knot, the Baha’i teachings recommend that you make that knot more unifying and inclusive by including the people who brought you into this world.