By Dr. Mark Creech
About a year ago I was talking with a young woman who was cohabitating with her boyfriend instead of marrying him. She said with some perplexity, “Reverend, what difference does a piece of paper make? You can have the same commitment without a legal document.”
I responded simply, “Then if that piece of paper really makes no difference, why not go get it?” The fact is it does make a huge difference – what it reveals about the reality of the depth of one’s commitment – the legal protections it provides for the woman and any possible children that may come from the couple’s union.
Marriage is not simply a private matter. But it is a covenant made between God, the couple, society, and the laws of the land. Anything short of this between a man and a woman is not marriage, but just something that mimics it.
Glenn Stanton, a researcher, author and speaker on marriage issues has spent years reviewing research from institutions like Harvard, University of Chicago, Berkely and Bowling Green that address the difference between cohabitating and marriage. Stanton writes:
“The reams of research stacked on my desk from various disciplines indicates that the idea that marriage is just a piece of paper or a legal formality could not be further from the truth…Institutions conducting credible research on this issue across the country are finding that in every way we are able to measure human wellbeing, marriage makes a measurable difference. There is a gap the size of the Grand Canyon in the outcomes of married people versus cohabitating couples. Even long-term cohabitating couples look more like single people than married people…When we look at domestic violence against women, how well the kids do in school, the kind of neighborhood you live in, and mental and physical wellbeing, married people are better off across the board. In some instances, two to three times better off than those who are single or living together.” 
Stanton challenges anyone who thinks cohabitation is just as good as marriage to find a credible, published study that supports his/her opinion. 
I think couple cohabitating outside of marriage is especially bad for women because women tend to think cohabitation is something moving towards marriage, while most guys are just hanging out, having fun, and enjoying the milk from the cow without having to pay for it. 
For the first time in America’s history, more people are living together than those who are married. That’s a tragedy for these couples, the children who come from their unions, as well as the country.
When thinking of marriage, most never consider how their union affects society at large. Yet marriage is the most fundamental institution in our culture. God established marriage long before the establishment of cities, nations, courts of law or any other human arrangement. The health of marriage always determines the health of a culture.
British anthropologists J.D. Unwin conducted exhaustive research on assertions made by the renowned Sigmund Freud. Unwin concluded that Freud’s call for the liberation of sexual behavior had serious consequences for society. Unwin chronicled the historical decline of eighty-six different cultures and discovered “strict monogamy” such as required between one man and one woman in the permanent relationship of marriage was absolutely necessary to a culture’s energy and growth. He reported that no society flourished for more than three generations without it.  He wrote:
“In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on prenuptial and postnuptial continence.” 
Outside of that piece of paper there is nothing but sexual immorality – a bond without the fullest commitment – a bond with all the privileges of marriage but devoid of its most serious responsibilities – a counterfeit at best.
Yes, that piece of paper does make a difference – all the difference in the world.
 Baumgardner, Julie “Does A Piece of Paper Really Make a Difference?” First Things First, http://firstthings.org/does-a-piece-of-paper-really-make-a-difference
 Grudem, Wayne. Politics: According to the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010, pg. 216
 Ibid, pg. 217
This is a revised version of a previous article written by Dr. Creech, posted on the Christian Action League’s web site, July 19, 2013