Among the laws of the Bahá’í Faith are several related to marriage and family life. This brief compilation gathers together extracts on this subject, and includes passages relating to the freedom of individuals to choose a spouse, the requirement of receiving the consent of parents prior to marriage, the prohibition of adultery, and the question of divorce.
Marriage is explicitly enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh. He writes:
And when He desired to manifest grace and beneficence to men, and to set the world in order, He revealed observances and created laws; among them He established the law of marriage, made it as a fortress for well-being and salvation, and enjoined it upon us in that which was sent down out of the heaven of sanctity in His Most Holy Book.
God hath prescribed matrimony unto you...Enter into wedlock, O people, that ye may bring forth one who will make mention of Me amid My servants. This is My bidding unto you; hold fast to it as an assistance to yourselves.
Shoghi Effendi explains in a letter written on his behalf that marriage is not obligatory, but that it is “recommended to the believers by Bahá’u’lláh.”
Marriage is defined in the Bahá’í Faith as a union between two consenting adults: a man and a woman. Abdu’l-Bahá has stated the following in this regard:
Bahá’í marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart. Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever. Their purpose must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity…
The true marriage of Bahá’ís is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God. This is Bahá’í marriage.
In another Tablet, He has written:
O ye two believers in God! The Lord, peerless is He, hath made woman and man to abide with each other in the closest companionship, and to be even as a single soul. They are two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each other.
If they live thus, they will pass through this world with perfect contentment, bliss, and peace of heart, and become the object of divine grace and favor in the Kingdom of heaven. But if they do other than this, they will live out their lives in great bitterness, longing at every moment for death, and will be shamefaced in the heavenly realm.
Strive, then, to abide, heart and soul, with each other as two doves in the nest, for this is to be blessed in both worlds.
The consent of the parents of those wishing to enter into marriage is also required. Bahá’u’lláh writes that, “once the couple's wish is known”, marriage is “conditioned...upon the permission of their parents”. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains:
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.
In regard to your question concerning the nature and character of Bahá’í marriage. As you have rightly stated, such a Marriage is conditioned upon the full approval of all four parents. Also your statement to the effect that the principle of the oneness of mankind prevents any true Bahá’í from regarding race itself as a bar to union is in complete accord with the Teachings of the Faith on this point
Shoghi Effendi provides the following comments on this provision in a letter written on his behalf:
Bahá’u’lláh has clearly stated the consent of all living parents is required for a Bahá’í marriage. This applies whether the parents are Bahá’ís or non-Bahá’ís, divorced for years or not. This great law He has laid down to strengthen the social fabric, to knit closer the ties of the home, to place a certain gratitude and respect in the hearts of the children for those who have given them life and sent their souls out on the eternal journey towards their Creator.
The Bahá’í teachings forbid any sexual relations outside of marriage. “Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery. Avoid them, O concourse of the faithful,” Bahá’u’lláh states. In letters written on his behalf, Shoghi Effendi has provided the following guidance:
Concerning your question whether there are any legitimate forms of expression of the sex instinct outside of marriage: according to the Bahá’í Teachings no sexual act can be considered lawful unless performed between lawfully married persons. Outside of marital life there can be no lawful or healthy use of the sex impulse…
The Bahá’í Teachings on this matter, which is of such vital concern and about which there is such a wide divergency of views, are very clear and emphatic. Briefly stated the Bahá’í conception of sex is based on the belief that chastity should be strictly practised by both sexes, not only because it is in itself highly commendable ethically, but also due to its being the only way to a happy and successful marital life. Sex relationships of any form outside marriage are not permissible therefore, and whoso violates this rule will not only be responsible to God, but will incur the necessary punishment from society.
The Bahá’í Faith recognizes the value of the sex impulse, but condemns its illegitimate and improper expression such as free love, companionate marriage and others, all of which it considers positively harmful to man and to the society in which he lives. The proper use of the sex instinct is the natural right of every individual, and it is precisely for this very purpose that the institution of marriage has been established. The Bahá’ís do not believe in the suppression of the sex impulse but in its regulation and control.
Chastity implies both before and after marriage an unsullied, chaste sex life. Before marriage absolutely chaste, after marriage absolutely faithful to one’s chosen companion. Faithful in all sexual acts, faithful in word and in deed.
The world today is submerged, amongst other things, in an over-exaggeration of the importance of physical love, and a dearth of spiritual values. In as far as possible the believers should try to realize this and rise above the level of their fellow-men who are, typical of all decadent periods in history, placing so much over-emphasis on the purely physical side of mating. Outside of their normal, legitimate married life they should seek to establish bonds of comradeship and love which are eternal and founded on the spiritual life of man, not on his physical life. This is one of the many fields in which it is incumbent on the Bahá’ís to set the example and lead the way to a true human standard of life, when the soul of man is exalted and his body but the tool for his enlightened spirit. Needless to say this does not preclude the living of a perfectly normal sex life in its legitimate channel of marriage.
A letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice provides the following:
Bahá’í teachings on sexual morality center on marriage and the family as the bedrock of the whole structure of human society and are designed to protect and strengthen that divine institution. Bahá’í law thus restricts permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married.
Divorce is permitted in the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, but it is strongly discouraged. Bahá’u’lláh states in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas:
Truly, the Lord loveth union and harmony and abhorreth separation and divorce.
Should resentment or antipathy arise between husband and wife, he is not to divorce her but to bide in patience throughout the course of one whole year, that perchance the fragrance of affection may be renewed between them. If, upon the completion of this period, their love hath not returned, it is permissible for divorce to take place. God’s wisdom, verily, hath encompassed all things.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá further explains:
Now the friends in America must live and conduct themselves in this way. They must strictly refrain from divorce unless something ariseth which compelleth them to separate because of their aversion for each other, in that case with the knowledge of the Spiritual Assembly they may decide to separate. They must then be patient and wait one complete year. If during this year, harmony is not re-established between them, then their divorce may be realized. It should not happen that upon the occurrence of a slight friction or displeasure between husband and wife, the husband would think of union with some other woman, or, God forbid, the wife also think of another husband. This is contrary to the standard of heavenly value and true chastity. The friends of God must so live and conduct themselves, and evince such excellence of character and conduct, as to make others astonished. The love between husband and wife must not be purely physical, nay, rather, it must be spiritual and heavenly. These two souls should be considered as one soul. How difficult it would be to divide a single soul! Nay, great would be the difficulty!
In short, the foundation of the Kingdom of God is based upon harmony and love, oneness, relationship and union, not upon differences, especially between husband and wife. If one of these two becomes the cause of divorce, that one will unquestionably fall into great difficulties, will become the victim of formidable calamities and experience deep remorse.
Shoghi Effendi has provided the following, in letters written on his behalf:
When such difference of opinion and belief occurs between husband and wife it is very unfortunate for undoubtedly it detracts from that spiritual bond which is the stronghold of the family bond, especially in times of difficulty. The way, however, that it could be remedied is not by acting in such wise as to alienate the other party. One of the objects of the Cause is actually to bring about a closer bond in the homes. In all such cases, therefore, the Master used to advise obedience to the wishes of the other party and prayer. Pray that your husband may gradually see the light and at the same time so act as to draw him nearer rather than prejudice him. Once that harmony is secured then you will be able to serve unhampered.
Divorce is, according to the Aqdas, permissible. But it is discouraged. Both the husband and wife have equal right to ask for divorce, and whenever either of them feels it absolutely essential to do so. Divorce becomes valid even if one of the parties refuses to accept it, and after one year of separation, during which period the husband is under the obligation of providing for his wife and children.