The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
My child is yet a stranger in the world.
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years.
Let two more summers wither in their pride
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.
Paris, Juliet’s suitor:
Younger than she are happy mothers made.
And too soon marred are those so early made.
– Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare, 1.2.8-13.
Shakespeare showed us, in Romeo and Juliet, that having parental consent to marry can be a protection and a blessing. Juliet’s mother, Lady Capulet, tried to protect her. In the end, without parental consent, things didn’t work out well at all.
The Baha’i teachings clearly say that couples should freely choose their own life-mate for marriage, without any interference from parents. They also clearly say that after the couple chooses to marry one another, then the parents need to be involved:
As for the question regarding marriage under the Law of God: first thou must choose one who is pleasing to thee, and then the matter is subject to the consent of father and mother. Before thou makest thy choice, they have no right to interfere. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 85.
This setting of boundaries and rights for the couple and the parents does not mean that the couple and the parents have nothing to do with one another during courtship. The couple can seek advice from parents, who likely know them very well. But the parents cannot choose a marriage partner for their son or daughter, or interfere with the choice of a partner. However, they can certainly discuss general principles about what to look for in a partner, and potential pitfalls to avoid.
When I was 18, I got involved with someone in another country who lived near my grandmother. She wanted me to marry him so I would live near her. However, my parents and I didn’t really know him as well, so we questioned the wisdom of that choice. He was able to hide the fact that he had a problem with alcohol. When we met with my parents and asked them for consent to marry, my father asked about alcohol use. I actually answered the question for him, saying he was a social drinker only, and it wasn’t a problem! It turned out to be a terrible one—and it taught me an important but hard lesson about parental wisdom.
When children approach their parents for consent to marry, it helps them feel respect for those who gave them life. The Baha’i teachings rank that type of respect very highly:
The fruits that best befit the tree of human life are trustworthiness and godliness, truthfulness and sincerity; but greater than all, after recognition of the unity of God, praised and glorified be He, is regard for the rights that are due to one’s parents. This teaching hath been mentioned in all the Books of God… – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 139.
The outcome of the marriage is still the couple’s responsibility, although obviously it’s helpful to have supportive parents. However, giving parental consent means that parents will carefully consider the welfare and happiness of their child. It is important that the child not pressure the parents, but give them the time and opportunity to make a wise choice.
Avoiding prejudice in withholding consent is another vital principle. When parents consider who their child wants to marry, they must not see race as a barrier:
Baha’u’llah taught the Oneness of humanity; that is to say, all the children of men are under the mercy of the Great God. They are the sons of one God; they are trained by God. He has placed the crown of humanity on the head of every one of the servants of God. Therefore all nations and peoples must consider themselves brethren. They are all descendants from Adam. They are the branches, leaves, flowers and fruits of One Tree. They are pearls from one shell. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 28.
The Baha’i teachings make these principles clear—but the details for how, where, and when the couple and the parents carry out consent, how long it takes, and how formal or informal it is, are left up to those involved.
When I wanted to marry a second time, my parents made sure that they got to know my potential husband better. His parents also had the opportunity to spend time with me. All six of us built unity in the process of exploring whether we could have a good marriage and join our families. It was a blessing to have the family be so supportive, and a tremendous support for our union.
When the couple knows each other’s character, and when the parents freely give their consent, it builds greater family unity. This blessing contributes enormously to the well-being of the marriage. As a parent, no greater wedding gift exists than the gift of your assent and consent:
Note ye how easily, where unity existeth in a given family, the affairs of that family are conducted; what progress the members of that family make, how they prosper in the world. Their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquility, they are secure, their position is assured, they come to be envied by all. Such a family but addeth to its stature and its lasting honor, as day succeedeth day. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 221.