This page provides a range of contemporary resources in relation to the ethics of non-marital cohabitation. They are best used alongside the resources on the theology and ethics of marriage. Most, but not all, of these are available online (some though requiring a subscription to be accessed).Last Updated on 3 March, 2021 by Andrew Goddard
Contemporary Christian Discussions on Cohabitation
- A classic discussion on pre-marital sex is Paul Ramsey’s One Flesh: Christian View of Sex Within, Outside and Before Marriage which originally appeared in The Journal of Religion, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Apr., 1965), pp. 100-118 and then as a Grove Booklet in 1975 and reprinted in 2009.
- The fullest treatment, arguing for a more positive evaluation, is Adrian Thatcher’s Living Together and Christian Ethics (CUP, 2002) which develops arguments in his other, earlier books. His central arguments can be gained from these shorter papers by him:
- “Living Together” article from Church Times.
- Another earlier book length study, more conservative, is Greg Forster, Cohabitation and Marriage: A Pastoral Response (Zondervan, 1994). He also has a Grove booklet entitled Marriage before Marriage? The moral validity of ‘Common Law’ Marriage
- Peter Manning’s 2008 Durham PhD thesis – Cohabitation in Contemporary Britain: A theological and pastoral response
- Duncan Dormor, Just Cohabiting?: The Church, Sex and Getting Married. (DLT, 2004) offers a more popular and accessible study than Thatcher’s heavier book and also argues for a more positive Christian response. Much of the argument can be found in his October 2004 Conference Paper and his chapter (chpt 6) in Dormor, D et al (eds), Anglicanism: The Answer to Modernity (Continuum, 2003).
- Christopher Ash, “What’s Wrong with Living Together Unmarried?”. Fuller discussion in his Marriage: Sex in the Service of God in Chpt 11 (pp. 211-45) on marriage as “voluntary sexual and public social union” including discussion of cohabitation (especially pp. 222-6 and 232ff).
- Pope Francis’ recent exhortation Amoris Laetitia Chpt 8 explores the church’s response to “irregular unions” which includes cohabiting couples. A leading cardinal explains his understanding of it in this interview and his book reported on here and also here. See also David Elliot’s “Irregular Unions and Moral Growth in Amoris Laetitia” in Journal of Moral Theology (2019), 8:2, pp. 31-59.
- Two significant Roman Catholic writers arguing for a more positive understanding of cohabitation are Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler in
- “Marriage and Cohabitation: Some Theological Correlations” in Marriage, Families & Spirituality (2019), Vol 25, pp. 35-48
- “Amoris Laetitia a Turning Point: Cohabitation Revisited” in The Irish Theological Quarterly 2019 (need SAGE access)
- Richard M. Davidson the OT scholar whose work is referred to in the resources on marriage addresses questions relating to cohabitation in “Does Marriage Still Matter?”
- Andrew Village, Emyr Williams and Leslie J. Francis – “Living in sin? Religion and cohabitation in Britain 1985-2005” Marriage & Family Review, 2010, Vol. 46 (6&7), pp. 468-479.
There is a range of older material which is still of interest including:
- Gary Jenkins – Cohabitation: A Biblical Response (Grove Ethics, 1993)
- Jeremy Collingwood – Common Law Marriage: The Case for a Change in the Law (Grove Ethics)
- In 2003 the Diocese of Southwark’s Board for Church in Society produced a report,Cohabitation: A Christian Reflectionwith summaries on the diocesan website linked from here.
- Keith Warrington, “Cohabitation and the Church”, Churchman 1997 (111/2) and a short response to it from Edward Pratt in Churchman 1998 (112/3) whose views are more fully set out in his booklet Living in Sin?: What Does the Bible Say? What Follows From Accepting Cohabitation? (1992).
- Patricia Morgan’s “Marriage-Lite” (Civitas, 2000) looks critically at the rise of cohabitation and its consequences
- Philippa Taylor – “For Better or For Worse: A look at marriage, cohabitation and family breakdown” (2000) offers another critique of cohabitation.
The main Church of England resources are:
- The controversial 1995 BSR Report Something to Celebrate included sections on cohabitation
- The 1999 Church of England House of Bishops’ Marriage: A Teaching Document has an appendix answering the question “What does the Church have to say to a couple who are living together without being married?”
- 2004 General Synod debate (pp 108-end of PDF; 302-end of print)
- 2006 response of Mission and Public Affairs to Law Commission Report – “Cohabitation: The Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown, A response”
For info on the situation in UK:
- Rebecca Probert, author of major study, lectures on “The myths of history” (slides here)
- The legal situation in relation to co-habitation and “common-law marriage” is helpfully summarised in a 2019 report here
- The latest official statistics show a rise in numbers cohabiting – more details here. A longer term perspective is given Anne Berrington and Juliet Stone in “Cohabitation trends and patterns in the UK” (2015).