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Marriage is a social union or legal contract between individuals that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found. Such a union may also be called matrimony, while the ceremony that marks its beginning is usually called a wedding.

People marry for many reasons, most often including one or more of the following: legal, social, emotional, economical, spiritual, and religious. These might include arranged marriages, family obligations, the legal establishment of a nuclear family unit, the legal protection of children and public declaration of love.[1][2]

Marriage practices are very diverse across cultures, may take many forms, and are often formalized by a wedding.[3] The act of marriage usually creates normative or legal obligations between the individuals involved. In some societies these obligations also extend to certain family members of the married persons. Almost all cultures that recognize marriage also recognize adultery as a violation of the terms of marriage.[4]

External recognition can manifest in a variety of ways. Some examples include the state, a religious authority, or both. It is often viewed as a contract. Civil marriage is the legal concept of marriage as a governmental institution irrespective of religious affiliation, in accordance with marriage laws of the jurisdiction. If recognized by the state, by the religion(s) to which the parties belong or by society in general, the act of marriage changes the personal and social status of the individuals who enter into it.



Marriage is the union of two different surnames, in friendship and in love, in order to continue the posterity of the former sages, and to furnish those who shall preside at the sacrifices to heaven and earth, at those in the ancestral temple, and at those at the altars to the spirits of the land and grain.

Confucius, [5]

Anthropologists have proposed several competing definitions of marriage so as to encompass the wide variety of marital practices observed across cultures.[6] In his book The History of Human Marriage (1921), Edvard Westermarck defined marriage as "a more or less durable connection between male and female lasting beyond the mere act of propagation till after the birth of the offspring."[7] In The Future of Marriage in Western Civilization (1936), he rejected his earlier definition, instead provisionally defining marriage as "a relation of one or more men to one or more women that is recognised by custom or law".[8]

The anthropological handbook Notes and Queries (1951) defined marriage as "a union between a man and a woman such that children born to the woman are the recognized legitimate offspring of both partners."[9] In recognition of a practice by the Nuer of Sudan allowing women to act as a husband in certain circumstances, Kathleen Gough suggested modifying this to "a woman and one or more other persons."[10]

Edmund Leach criticized Gough's definition for being too restrictive in terms of recognized legitimate offspring and suggested that marriage be viewed in terms of the different types of rights it serves to establish. Leach expanded the definition and proposed that "Marriage is a relationship established between a woman and one or more other persons, which provides that a child born to the woman under circumstances not prohibited by the rules of the relationship, is accorded full birth-status rights common to normal members of his society or social stratum"[11] Leach argued that no one definition of marriage applied to all cultures. He offered a list of ten rights associated with marriage, including sexual monopoly and rights with respect to children, with specific rights differing across cultures.[12]

Duran Bell also criticized the legitimacy-based definition on the basis that some societies do not require marriage for legitimacy, arguing that in societies where illegitimacy means only that the mother is unmarried and has no other legal implications, a legitimacy-based definition of marriage is circular. He proposed defining marriage in terms of sexual access rights.[6]

Various definitions of marriage often include the concept of conjugal rights which may include mutual rights of companionship and support (consortium), co-habitation, joint property rights, and sexual relations. The concept of conjugal rights may be applied to "traditional" or non-traditional definitions of marriage. In June 2007, the California Department of Corrections announced it would allow same-sex conjugal visits. The policy was enacted to comply with a 2005 state law requiring state agencies to give the same rights to domestic partners that heterosexual couples receive.[13]

In the 21st century United States, it has become popular to describe marriages as either traditional or non-traditional. Traditional marriage has been conservatively described as being a life-long legal union between one man and one woman for the support of family and presumably offspring. Following the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the marriage vows of many Christian denominations included "Till death do us part" as part of the marriage liturgy. With the advent of No-fault divorce in 1970, and the widespread acceptance of Birth control, the definition of traditional marriage has become less narrowly defined as a legal bond "between a man and a woman". The Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, of 1996 uses this definition. Non-traditional marriage assumes a conjugal relationship other than that assumed in the traditional definition, and most commonly refers to Same-sex marriage.


The modern English word "marriage" derives from Middle English mariage, which first appears in 1250–1300 C.E. This in turn is derived from Old French marier (to marry) and ultimately Latin marītāre (to marry) and marītus (of marriage).[14]


Although the institution of marriage pre-dates reliable recorded history, many cultures have legends concerning the origins of marriage. The way in which a marriage is conducted and its rules and ramifications has changed over time, as has the institution itself, depending on the culture or demographic of the time.[15]

One of the oldest known and recorded marriage laws is discerned from Hammurabi's Code, enacted in ancient Mesopotamia (widely considered as the cradle of civilization). Various cultures have had their own theories on the origin of marriage. One example may lie in a man's need for assurance as to paternity of his children. He might therefore be willing to pay a bride price or provide for a woman in exchange for exclusive sexual access.[16] Legitimacy is the consequence of this transaction rather than its motivation. In Comanche society, married women work harder, lose sexual freedom, and do not seem to obtain any benefit from marriage.[17] But nubile women are a source of jealousy and strife in the tribe, so they are given little choice other than to get married. "In almost all societies, access to women is institutionalized in some way so as to moderate the intensity of this competition."[18]

In English common law, a marriage was a voluntary contract by a man and a woman, in which by agreement they choose to become husband and wife.[19] Edvard Westermarck proposed that "the institution of marriage has probably developed out of a primeval habit".[20]

Forms of group marriage which involve more than one member of each sex, and therefore are not either polygyny or polyandry, have existed in history. However, these forms of marriage are extremely rare. Of the 250 societies reported by the American anthropologist George P. Murdock in 1949, only the Caingang of Brazil had any group marriages at all.[21]

European marriages

For most of European history, marriage was more or less a business agreement between two families who arranged the marriages of their children. Romantic love, and even simple affection, were not considered essential.[22] Historically, the perceived necessity of marriage has been stressed.[23]

In Ancient Greece, no specific civil ceremony was required for the creation of a marriage - only mutual agreement and the fact that the couple must regard each other as husband and wife accordingly.[24] Men usually married when they were in their 20s or 30s [25] and expected their wives to be in their early teens. It has been suggested that these ages made sense for the Greek because men were generally done with military service by age 30, and marrying a young girl ensured her virginity.[26] Married Greek women had few rights in ancient Greek society and were expected to take care of the house and children.[27] Time was an important factor in Greek marriage. For example, there were superstitions that being married during a full moon was good luck and, according to Robert Flacelière, Greeks married in the winter.[26] Inheritance was more important than feelings: A woman whose father dies without male heirs can be forced to marry her nearest male relative—even if she has to divorce her husband first.[28]

There were several types of marriages in ancient Roman society. The traditional ("conventional") form called conventio in manum required a ceremony with witnesses and was also dissolved with a ceremony.[23] In this type of marriage, a woman lost her family rights of inheritance of her old family and gained them with her new one. She now was subject to the authority of her husband.[29] There was the free marriage known as sine manu. In this arrangement, the wife remained a member of her original family; she stayed under the authority of her father, kept her family rights of inheritance with her old family and did not gain any with the new family.[29] The minimum age of marriage for girls was 12.[30]

A woodcut of a medieval wedlock ceremony from Germany.

From the early Christian era (30 to 325 CE), marriage was thought of as primarily a private matter,[citation needed] with no uniform religious or other ceremony being required. However, bishop Ignatius of Antioch writing around 110 to bishop Polycarp of Smyrna exhorts, "[I]t becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust."[31]

In the 12th century women were obligated to take the name of their husbands and starting in the second half of the 16th century parental consent along with the churches consent was required for marriage .[32]

With few local exceptions, until 1545, Christian marriages in Europe were by mutual consent, declaration of intention to marry and upon the subsequent physical union of the parties.[33][34] The couple would promise verbally to each other that they would be married to each other; the presence of a priest or witnesses was not required.[35] This promise was known as the "verbum." If freely given and made in the present tense (e.g., "I marry you"), it was unquestionably binding;[33] if made in the future tense ("I will marry you"), it would constitute a betrothal. One of the functions of churches from the Middle Ages was to register marriages, which was not obligatory. There was no state involvement in marriage and personal status, with these issues being adjudicated in ecclesiastical courts. During the Middle Ages marriages were arranged, sometimes as early as birth, and these early pledges to marry were often used to ensure treaties between different royal families, nobles, and heirs of fiefdoms. The church resisted these imposed unions, and increased the number of causes for nullification of these arrangements.[32] As Christianity spread during the roman period and the Middle Ages, the idea of free choice in selecting marriage partners increased and spread with it.[32]

The average age of marriage in the late 1200s into the 1500s was around 25 years of age.[36]

As part of the Counter-Reformation, in 1563 the Council of Trent decreed that a Roman Catholic marriage would be recognized only if the marriage ceremony was officiated by a priest with two witnesses. The Council also authorized a Catechism, issued in 1566, which defined marriage as, "The conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life."[37]

In England, under the Anglican Church, marriage by consent and cohabitation was valid until the passage of Lord Hardwicke's Act in 1753. This act instituted certain requirements for marriage, including the performance of a religious ceremony observed by witnesses.[38]

As part of the Reformation, the role of recording marriages and setting the rules for marriage passed to the state. By the 1600s many of the Protestant European countries had a state involvement in marriage. As of 2000, the average marriage age range was 25–44 years for men and 22–39 years for women.

Recognition by the state

In the early modern period, John Calvin and his Protestant colleagues reformulated Christian marriage by enacting the Marriage Ordinance of Geneva, which imposed "The dual requirements of state registration and church consecration to constitute marriage"[37] for recognition.

In England and Wales, Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act 1753 required a formal ceremony of marriage, thereby curtailing the practice of Fleet Marriage.[39] These were clandestine or irregular marriages performed at Fleet Prison, and at hundreds of other places. From the 1690s until the Marriage Act of 1753 as many as 300,000 clandestine marriages were performed at Fleet Prison alone.[40] The Act required a marriage ceremony to be officiated by an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church with two witnesses and registration. The Act did not apply to Jewish marriages or those of Quakers, whose marriages continued to be governed by their own customs.

In England and Wales, since 1837, civil marriages have been recognized as a legal alternative to church marriages under the Marriage Act of 1836. In Germany, civil marriages were recognized in 1875. This law permitted a declaration of the marriage before an official clerk of the civil administration, when both spouses affirm their will to marry, to constitute a legally recognized valid and effective marriage, and allowed an optional private clerical marriage ceremony.

Chinese marriage

The mythological origin of Chinese marriage is a story about Nüwa and Fu Xi who invented proper marriage procedures after becoming married.

In ancient Chinese society, people of the same surname were not supposed to marry and doing so was seen as incest. However, because marriage to one's maternal relatives was not thought of as incest, families sometimes intermarried from one generation to another. Over time, Chinese people became more geographically mobile. Individuals remained members of their biological families. When a couple died, the husband and the wife were buried separately in the respective clans’ graveyard. In a maternal marriage, a male would become a son-in-law who lived in the wife's home.

Same-sex marriage

Various types of same-sex marriages have existed,[41] ranging from informal, unsanctioned relationships to highly ritualized unions.[42]

While it is a relatively new practice that same-sex couples are being granted the same form of legal marital recognition as commonly used by mixed-sex couples, recent publicity and debate over the past decade gives an impression that civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples is novel and untested. There is a long history of recorded same-sex unions around the world.[43] It is believed that same-sex unions were celebrated in Ancient Greece and Rome,[43] some regions of China, such as Fujian, and at certain times in ancient European history.[44] A law in the Theodosian Code (C. Th. 9.7.3) issued in 342 CE prohibited same-sex marriage in ancient Rome, but the exact intent of the law and its relation to social practice is unclear, as only a few examples of same-sex marriage in that culture exist.[45]

Selection of a partner

An arranged marriage between Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresa of Spain.

The selection of a marriage partner may involve either the couple going through a selection process of courtship or the marriage may be arranged by the couple's parents or an outside party, a matchmaker.

A pragmatic (or 'arranged') marriage is made easier by formal procedures of family or group politics. A responsible authority sets up or encourages the marriage; they may, indeed, engage a professional matchmaker to find a suitable spouse for an unmarried person. The authority figure could be parents, family, a religious official, or a group consensus.

In some cases, the authority figure may choose a match for purposes other than marital harmony.

In rural Indian villages, child marriage is also practiced, with parents at times arranging the wedding, sometimes even before the child is born. This practice is now illegal under the Child Marriage Restraint Act.

In some societies ranging from Central Asia to the Caucasus to Africa, the custom of bride kidnapping still exists, in which a woman is captured by a man and his friends. Sometimes this covers an elopement, but sometimes it depends on sexual violence. In previous times, raptio was a larger-scale version of this, with groups of women captured by groups of men, sometimes in war; the most famous example is The Rape of the Sabine Women, which provided the first citizens of Rome with their wives.

Other marriage partners are more or less imposed on an individual. For example, widow inheritance provides a widow with another man from her late husband's brothers.

Marriage ceremony

Couple married in a Shinto ceremony in Takayama, Gifu prefecture.

A marriage is usually formalized at a wedding or marriage ceremony. The ceremony may be officiated either by a religious official, by a government official or by a state approved celebrant. In many European and some Latin American countries, any religious ceremony must be held separately from the required civil ceremony. Some countries - such as Belgium, Bulgaria, France, the Netherlands, Romania and Turkey[46] - require that a civil ceremony take place before any religious one. In some countries - notably the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Norway and Spain - both ceremonies can be held together; the officiant at the religious and civil ceremony also serving as agent of the state to perform the civil ceremony. To avoid any implication that the state is "recognizing" a religious marriage (which is prohibited in some countries) - the "civil" ceremony is said to be taking place at the same time as the religious ceremony. Often this involves simply signing a register during the religious ceremony. If the civil element of the religious ceremony is omitted, the marriage is not recognized by government under the law.

While some countries, such as Australia, permit marriages to be held in private and at any location, others, including England and Wales, require that the civil ceremony be conducted in a place open to the public and specially sanctioned by law. In England, the place of marriage need no longer be a church or register office, but could also be a hotel, historic building or other venue that has obtained the necessary license. An exception can be made in the case of marriage by special emergency license, which is normally granted only when one of the parties is terminally ill. Rules about where and when persons can marry vary from place to place. Some regulations require that one of the parties reside in the locality of the registry office.

Within the parameters set by the law of the jurisdiction in which a marriage or wedding takes place, each religious authority has rules for the manner in which weddings are to be conducted by their officials and members.


Marriage is an institution which can join together people's lives in a variety of emotional and economic ways. In many Western cultures, marriage usually leads to the formation of a new household comprising the married couple, with the married couple living together in the same home, often sharing the same bed, but in some other cultures this is not the tradition.[47] Among the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, residency after marriage is matrilocal, with the husband moving into the household of his wife's mother.[48] Residency after marriage can also be patrilocal or avunculocal. Such marriages have also been increasingly common in modern Beijing. Guo Jianmei, director of the center for women's studies at Beijing University, told a Newsday correspondent, "Walking marriages reflect sweeping changes in Chinese society."[49] A similar arrangement in Saudi Arabia, called misyar marriage, also involves the husband and wife living separately but meeting regularly.[50]

Conversely, marriage is not a prerequisite for cohabitation. In some cases couples living together do not wish to be recognized as married, such as when pension or alimony rights are adversely affected, or because of taxation consideration, or because of immigration issues, and for many other reasons. In modern western societies some couples cohabitate before marriage to test whether such an arrangement might work in the long term.

In some cases cohabitation may constitute a common-law marriage, and in some countries the laws recognize cohabitation in preference to the formality of marriage for taxation and social security benefits. This is the case, for example, in Australia.[51]

Sex and procreation

Many of the world's major religions look with disfavor on sexual relations outside of marriage.[52] Many nonsecular states, mostly with Muslim majorities, sanction criminal penalties for sexual intercourse before marriage. Sexual relations by a married person with someone other than his/her spouse is known as adultery and is also frequently disapproved by the major world religions (some calling it a sin). Adultery is considered in many jurisdictions to be a crime and grounds for divorce.

On the other hand, marriage is not a prerequisite for having children. In the United States, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that in 1992, 30.1 percent of births were to unmarried women.[53][54] In 2006, that number had risen to 38.5 percent.[55] Children born outside of marriage, bastards and whoresons, were known as illegitimate and suffered legal disadvantages and social stigma. In recent years the legal relevance of illegitimacy has declined and social acceptance has increased, especially in western countries. In the United States, the highest judicial body ruled in the case Griswold v. Connecticut that procreation within marriage could be abridged by artificial insemination.

Some married couples choose not to have children and so remain childfree. Others are unable to have children because of infertility or other factors preventing conception or the bearing of children. In some cultures, marriage imposes an obligation on women to bear children. In northern Ghana, for example, payment of bridewealth signifies a woman's requirement to bear children, and women using birth control face substantial threats of physical abuse and reprisals.[56]

According to a study, married men and women, on average, have sex with their spouse 58 times a year, which means little more than once a week. There is however, a tendency that the older the spouses are, the less sex they have. According to the same study, it seems that people under 30 years old have sex about 111 times a year and about 15% of married couples have not had sex with their spouse in the last six months to one year. [57]

Maintaining the passion alive is however one of the most common issues that a married couple is confronted with. This is normally due to the fact that individuals become accustomed or even bored to their spouse or due to the demands of raising a family or establishing a career and the stress that arises from these. There are also cases in which the individuals just have a low sex drive and they gradually become asexual.

Couples whom have a low sex standard during marriage usually have sexual intercourse or any kind of sexual, romantic activity, one or two times a month. They think of sex as a chore and they only practice it when it has been previously scheduled. [58]

Marriage law

Marriage laws refer to the legal requirements which determine the validity of a marriage, which vary considerably between countries.

Common-law marriage

In some jurisdictions but not all, marriage relationships may be created by the operation of the law alone, as in common-law marriage, sometimes called "marriage by habit and repute (cohabitation)." A de facto common-law marriage without a license or ceremony is legally binding in some jurisdictions but has no legal consequence in others.[59]

Rights and obligations

A Ketubah in Hebrew, a Jewish marriage-contract outlining the duties of each partner.

A marriage bestows rights and obligations on the married parties, and sometimes on relatives as well, being the sole mechanism for the creation of affinal ties (in-laws). These may include:

  • Giving a husband/wife or his/her family control over a spouse's sexual services, labor, and property.
  • Giving a husband/wife responsibility for a spouse's debts.
  • Giving a husband/wife visitation rights when his/her spouse is incarcerated or hospitalized.
  • Giving a husband/wife control over his/her spouse's affairs when the spouse is incapacitated.
  • Establishing the second legal guardian of a parent's child.
  • Establishing a joint fund of property for the benefit of children.
  • Establishing a relationship between the families of the spouses.

These rights and obligations vary considerably between societies, and between groups within society.[60]

Marriage restrictions

Marriage is an institution that is historically filled with restrictions. From age, to race, to social status, to consanguinity, to gender, restrictions are placed on marriage by society for reasons of benefiting the children, passing on healthy genes, maintaining cultural values, or because of prejudice and fear. Almost all cultures that recognize marriage also recognize adultery as a violation of the terms of marriage.[4]

The United States has had a history of marriage restriction laws. Many states enacted miscegenation laws which were first introduced in the late seventeenth century in the slave-holding colonies of Virginia (1691) and Maryland (1692) and lasted until 1967 (until it was overturned via Loving v. Virginia). Many of these states restricted several minorities from marrying whites. For example, Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma banned Blacks in particular. States such as Mississippi and Missouri banned Blacks and Asians. States such as North Carolina and South Carolina banned Blacks and Native Americans, and some states such as Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia banned all non-whites.

It is a relatively new practice that same-sex couples are being granted the same form of legal marital recognition available to mixed-sexed couples. In the United States, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) explicitly defines marriage for the purposes of federal law as between a man and a woman and allows states to ignore same-sex marriages from other states (though states arguably could do this already).[61][62] Forty-one US states currently define marriage as between a man and a woman. Three of those states have statutory language that pre-dates DOMA (enacted before 1996) defining marriage as such. Thirty states have defined marriage in their constitutions. Arizona is the only state that has ever defeated a constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman (2006), but it subsequently passed one in 2008.[63]

Societies have often placed restrictions on marriage to relatives, though the degree of prohibited relationship varies widely. With few exceptions, marriages between parents and children or between full siblings have been considered incest and forbidden. However, marriages between more distant relatives have been much more common, with one estimate being that 80% of all marriages in history have been between second cousins or closer.[64] In modern times this proportion has fallen dramatically, but still more than 10% of all marriages are believed to be between first and second cousins.[65] In the United States, such marriages are now highly stigmatized, and laws ban most or all first-cousin marriage in 30 states. Specifics vary: in South Korea, historically it was illegal to marry someone with the same last name.[66]

Many societies have required a person to marry within their own general social group, which anthropologists refer to as endogamy. An example of such restrictions would be a requirement to marry someone from the same tribe.

Restrictions against polygamy have been common. Opposition to the recognition of Deseret as a State by the Federal government was founded on opposition to the once-practiced polygamous marriages of Mormons.

State recognition

In many jurisdictions, a civil marriage may take place as part of the religious marriage ceremony, although they are theoretically distinct. Some jurisdictions allow civil marriages in circumstances which are notably not allowed by particular religions, such as same-sex marriages or civil unions.

Marriage and religion

All mainstream religions have strong views relating to marriage. Most religions perform a wedding ceremony to solemnize the beginning of a marriage.

Bible-based faiths

In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)

Rembrandt's depiction of Samson's marriage feast

The Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament) describes a number of marriages, including those of Isaac,[Gen 24:49-67] Jacob,[Gen 29:27] and Samson.[Judg 14:7-12] In those times the most common marital arrangement, of those that are mentioned at all, is for men to have multiple wives at once.[67]

Betrothal (erusin), which is merely a binding promise to get married, is distinct from marriage itself (nissu'in), with the time between these events varying substantially.[67][68] Since a wife was regarded as property in those days, the betrothal (erusin) was effected simply by purchasing her from her father (or guardian)[67][68]; the girl’s consent is not explicitly required by any biblical law.[68] Like the adjacent Arabic culture (in the pre-Islamic period),[69] the act of marriage appears mainly to have consisted of the groom fetching the bride, although among the Israelites (unlike the Arabs) the procession was a festive occasion, accompanied by music, dancing, and lights.[68][67] To celebrate the marriage, week-long feasts were sometimes held.[67][68]

In biblical times, a wife was regarded as chattel, belonging to her husband[68][67]; the descriptions of the bible suggest that she would be expected to perform tasks such as spinning, sewing, weaving, manufacture of clothing, fetching of water, baking of bread, and animal husbandry.[70] However, wives were usually looked after with care, and bigamous men were expected to ensure that they give their first wife food, clothing, and sexual activity.[Ex 21:10]

Since a wife was regarded as property, her husband was originally free to divorce her for any reason, at any time.[68] A divorced couple were permitted to get back together, unless the wife had married someone else after her divorce.[Deut 24:2-4]


Christian wedding in Kyoto, Japan.

Christians believe that marriage is a gift from God, one that should not be taken for granted. They variously regard it as a sacrament, a contract, a sacred institution, or a covenant.[71] From the very beginning of the Christian Church, marriage law and theology have been a major matter.[72] The foundation of the Western tradition of Christian marriages have been the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul.[37]

Christians often marry for religious reasons ranging from following the biblical injunction for a "man to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one,"[Gen. 2:24][73] to obeying Canon Law stating marriage between baptized persons is a sacrament.[74]

Divorce is not encouraged. Most Protestant churches allow people to marry again after a divorce. In the Roman Catholic Church, marriage can only be ended by an annulment where the Church for special reasons regards it as never having taken place.[75]

"'...So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

Jesus[Matthew 19:6]

Liturgical Christianity

Anglicans, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox consider marriage termed holy matrimony to be an expression of divine grace, termed a sacrament or mystery. In Western ritual, the ministers of the sacrament are the husband and wife themselves, with a bishop, priest, or deacon merely witnessing the union on behalf of the church, and adding a blessing. In Eastern ritual churches, the bishop or priest functions as the actual minister of the Sacred Mystery (Eastern Orthodox deacons may not perform marriages). Western Christians commonly refer to marriage as a vocation, while Eastern Christians consider it an ordination and a martyrdom, though the theological emphases indicated by the various names are not excluded by the teachings of either tradition. Marriage is commonly celebrated in the context of a Eucharistic service (a nuptial Mass or Divine Liturgy). The sacrament of marriage is indicative of the relationship between Christ and the Church.[Eph. 5:29-32]

Roman Catholicism

The Roman Catholic tradition of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries defined marriage as a sacrament ordained by God,[37] signifying the mystical marriage of Christ to his Church.[76]

"The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament." [77]

The mutual love between man and wife becomes an image of the eternal love with which God loves humankind. The celebration of marriage between two Catholics normally takes place during the public liturgical celebration of the Holy Mass, because of its sacramental connection with the unity of the Paschal mystery of Christ (Communion). Sacramental marriage confers a perpetual and exclusive bond between the spouses. By its nature, the institution of marriage and conjugal love is ordered to the procreation and upbringing of offspring. Marriage creates rights and duties in the Church between the spouses and towards their children: "[e]ntering marriage with the intention of never having children is a grave wrong and more than likely grounds for an annulment."[78]

According to current Catholic legislation governing marriage, "The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility; in Christian marriage they acquire a distinctive firmness by reason of the sacrament.[79] Divorce is not recognized, but annulments predicated upon previously existing impediments may be granted. Offspring resulting from annulled relationships are considered legitimate. The remarriage of persons divorced from a living, lawful spouse are not separated from the Church, but they cannot receive Eucharistic communion.[80]


Protestant denominations see the primary purpose of marriage to be to glorify[81] God by demonstrating his love to the world.[citation needed] Other purposes of marriage include intimate companionship, rearing children and mutual support for both husband and wife to fulfill their life callings. Protestants generally approve of birth control[citation needed] and consider marital sexual pleasure to be a gift of God.

Most Reformed Christians would deny the elevation of marriage to the status of a sacrament, nevertheless it is considered a covenant between spouses before[Ephesians 5:31-33]

Historically, five competing models of marriage in Christianity have shaped Western marriage and legal tradition:

  • The Protestant Reformationists replaced the Roman Catholic sacramental model.
  • Martin Luther saw it as a social "estate of the earthly kingdom…subject to the prince, not the Pope."
  • John Calvin taught that marriage was a covenant of grace that required the coercive power of the state to preserve its integrity.
  • Anglicans regarded marriage as a domestic commonwealth within England and the church. By the seventeenth century, Anglican theologians had begun to develop a theology of marriage to replace the sacramental model of marriage. These "regarded the interlocking commonwealths of state, church, and family as something of an earthly form of heavenly government."
  • The secularism of the Enlightenment emphasized marriage as a contract "to be formed, maintained, and dissolved as the couple sees fit."[37]

John Witte, Professor of Law and director of the Law and Religion Program at Emory University, warns that contemporary liberal attitudes toward marriage ultimately will produce a family that is "haphazardly bound together in the common pursuit of selfish ends."[37]

Latter-day Saints
A couple following their marriage in the Manti Utah Temple.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) believe that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children." The LDS belief is that marriage between a man and a woman can last beyond death and into eternity.[82]


A Jewish wedding, painting by Jozef Israëls, 1903.

In Judaism, marriage is viewed as a contractual bond commanded by God in which a man and a woman come together to create a relationship in which God is directly involved.[Deut. 24:1] Though procreation is not the sole purpose, a Jewish marriage is also expected to fulfill the commandment to have children.[Gen. 1:28] The main focus centers around the relationship between the husband and wife. Kabbalistically, marriage is understood to mean that the husband and wife are merging together into a single soul. This is why a man is considered "incomplete" if he is not married, as his soul is only one part of a larger whole that remains to be unified.[83]


A Muslim bride of Pakistan origin signing the nikkah nama or marriage certificate.
A Muslim couple being wed alongside the Tungabhadra River at Hampi, India.

Islam also commends marriage, with the age of marriage being whenever the individuals feel ready, financially and emotionally.

In Islam, polygamy is allowed for men, with the specific limitation that they can only have up to four wives at any one time, given the religious requirement that they are able to and willing to partition their time and wealth equally among the respective wives.

For a Muslim wedding to take place, the bride and her guardian must both agree on the marriage. Should either the guardian or the girl disagree on the marriage, it may not legally take place. In essence, while the guardian/father of the girl has no right to force her to marry, he has the right to stop a marriage from taking place, given that his reasons are valid. The professed purpose of this practice is to ensure that a woman finds a suitable partner whom she has chosen not out of sheer emotion.

From an Islamic (Sharia) law perspective, the minimum requirements and responsibilities in a Muslim marriage are that the groom provide living expenses (housing, clothing, food, maintenance) to the bride, and in return, the bride's main responsibility is raising children to be proper Muslims. All other rights and responsibilities are to be decided between the husband and wife, and may even be included as stipulations in the marriage contract before the marriage actually takes place, so long as they do not go against the minimum requirements of the marriage.

In Shia Islam marriage must take place in the presence of at least two reliable witnesses, with the consent of the guardian of the bride and the consent of both spouses (including the girl). Following the marriage, the couple is immediately allowed to consummate the marriage. To create a religious contract between them, it is sufficient that a man and a woman indicate an intention to marry each other and recite the requisite words in front of a Muslim priest The wedding party can be held days, or months later, whenever the couple and their families want to announce the marriage in public.[84][85][86][87]

In Sunni Islam, marriage must take place in the presence of witnesses, with the consent of the bride and the consent of both spouses (including the girl). Following the marriage they may consummate their marriage.


In the Bahá'í Faith marriage is encouraged and viewed as a mutually strengthening bond, but is not obligatory. A Bahá'í marriage requires the couple to choose each other, and then the consent of all living parents.[88]


Hindu marriage ceremony from a Rajput wedding.

Hinduism sees marriage as a sacred duty that entails both religious and social obligations. Old Hindu literature in Sanskrit gives many different types of marriages and their categorization ranging from "Gandharva Vivaha" (instant marriage by mutual consent of participants only, without any need for even a single third person as witness) to normal (present day) marriages, to "Rakshasa Vivaha" ("demoniac" marriage, performed by abduction of one participant by the other participant, usually, but not always, with the help of other persons). Hindu widows cannot remarry.[89]


In a Sikh marriage, the couple make rounds around the holy book called Guru Granth Sahib four times and the holy man speaks some words from the Guru Granth Sahib in the form of kirtan. The ceremony is known as 'Anand Karaj' and represents the holy union of between two souls that are united as one.

Same-sex marriage

A same-sex couple exchanging wedding vows in an Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

For the most part, religious traditions in the world reserve marriage to heterosexual unions, but there are exceptions including Unitarian Universalist, Metropolitan Community Church, Quaker, United Church of Canada, United Church of Christ and Reform Jewish congregations, and some Anglican dioceses.[90][91] This model is currently recognized by various jurisdictions[92] and religious denominations.[93][94][95]

Financial considerations

The financial aspects of marriage vary between cultures and have changed over time.

In some cultures, dowries and bride prices continue to be required today. In both cases, the financial arrangements are usually made between the groom (or his family) and the bride's family; with the bride in many cases not being involved in the arrangement, and often not having a choice in whether to participate in the marriage.

In Early Modern Britain, the social status of the couple was supposed to be equal. After the marriage, all the property (called "fortune") and expected inheritances of the wife belonged to the husband.


A dowry was not an unconditional gift,[in Early Modern Britain?] but was usually a part of a wider marriage settlement. For example, if the groom had other children, they could not inherit the dowry, which had to go to the bride's children. In the event of her childlessness, the dowry had to be returned to her family, but sometimes not until the groom's death or remarriage.

In some cultures, dowries continue to be required today (for example, in Sudan), while some countries impose restrictions on the payment of dowry. In India, nearly 7,000 women are killed annually in disputes over dowries,[96] and activists believe that figures represent only a third of the actual number of such murders.[97]

Bride price and dower

In other cultures, the groom or his family were expected to pay a bride price to the bride's family for the right to marry the daughter, or dower, which was payable to the bride. This required the groom to work for the bride's family for a set period of time.

In the Jewish tradition, the rabbis in ancient times insisted on the marriage couple entering into a marriage contact, called a ketubah. Besides other things, the ketubah provided for an amount to be paid by the husband in the event of a divorce or his estate in the event of his death. This amount was a replacement of the biblical dower or bride price, which was payable at the time of the marriage by the groom to the father of the bride.[citation needed] [Exodus 22:15-16] This innovation was put in place because the biblical bride price created a major social problem: many young prospective husbands could not raise the bride price at the time when they would normally be expected to marry. So, to enable these young men to marry, the rabbis, in effect, delayed the time that the amount would be payable, when they would be more likely to have the sum. It may also be noted that both the dower and the ketubah amounts served the same purpose: the protection for the wife should her support cease, either by death or divorce. The only difference between the two systems was the timing of the payment. It is the predecessor to the wife's present-day entitlement to maintenance in the event of the breakup of marriage, and family maintenance in the event of the husband not providing adequately for the wife in his will. Another function performed by the ketubah amount was to provide a disincentive for the husband contemplating divorcing his wife: he would need to have the amount to be able to pay to the wife.

Morning gifts, which might also be arranged by the bride's father rather than the bride, are given to the bride herself; the name derives from the Germanic tribal custom of giving them the morning after the wedding night. She might have control of this morning gift during the lifetime of her husband, but is entitled to it when widowed. If the amount of her inheritance is settled by law rather than agreement, it may be called dower. Depending on legal systems and the exact arrangement, she may not be entitled to dispose of it after her death, and may lose the property if she remarries. Morning gifts were preserved for many centuries in morganatic marriage, a union where the wife's inferior social status was held to prohibit her children from inheriting a noble's titles or estates. In this case, the morning gift would support the wife and children. Another legal provision for widowhood was jointure, in which property, often land, would be held in joint tenancy, so that it would automatically go to the widow on her husband's death.

Islamic tradition has similar practices. A 'mahr', either immediate or deferred, is the woman's portion of the groom's wealth (divorce) or estate (death). These amounts are usually set on the basis of the groom's own and family wealth and incomes, but in some parts these are set very high so as to provide a disincentive for the groom exercising the divorce, or the husband's family 'inheriting' a large portion of the estate, especially if there are no male offspring from the marriage. In some countries, including Iran, the mahr or alimony can amount to more than a man can ever hope to earn, sometimes up to US$1,000,000 (4000 official Iranian gold coins). If the husband cannot pay the mahr, either in case of a divorce or on demand, according to the current laws in Iran, he will have to pay it by installments. Failure to pay the mahr might even lead to imprisonment.[98]

Modern customs

In many countries today, each marriage partner has the choice of keeping his or her property separate or combining properties. In the latter case, called community property, when the marriage ends by divorce each owns half. In many legal jurisdictions, laws related to property and inheritance provide by default for property to pass upon the death of one party in a marriage firstly to the spouse and secondly to the children. Wills and trusts can make alternative provisions for property succession.

In some legal systems, the partners in a marriage are "jointly liable" for the debts of the marriage. This has a basis in a traditional legal notion called the "Doctrine of Necessities" whereby a husband was responsible to provide necessary things for his wife. Where this is the case, one partner may be sued to collect a debt for which they did not expressly contract. Critics of this practice note that debt collection agencies can abuse this by claiming an unreasonably wide range of debts to be expenses of the marriage. The cost of defense and the burden of proof is then placed on the non-contracting party to prove that the expense is not a debt of the family. The respective maintenance obligations, both during and eventually after a marriage, are regulated in most jurisdictions; alimony is one such method.

Some have attempted to analyze the institution of marriage using economic theory; for example, anarcho-capitalist economist David D. Friedman has written a lengthy and controversial study of marriage as a market transaction (the market for husbands and wives).[99] As the economic status of woman was enhanced through marrige in the past, nowadays, as more wives work, more man than woman gain economicly. [100]


In some countries, spouses are allowed to average their incomes; this is advantageous to a married couple with disparate incomes. To compensate for this somewhat, many countries provide a higher tax bracket for the averaged income of a married couple. While income averaging might still benefit a married couple with a stay-at-home spouse, such averaging would cause a married couple with roughly equal personal incomes to pay more total tax than they would as two single persons. This is commonly called the marriage penalty.

Moreover, when the rates applied by the tax code are not based on averaging the incomes, but rather on the sum of individuals' incomes, higher rates will definitely apply to each individual in a two-earner households in progressive tax systems. This is most often the case with high-income taxpayers and is another situation where some consider there to be a marriage penalty.

Conversely, when progressive tax is levied on the individual with no consideration for the partnership, dual-income couples fare much better than single-income couples with similar household incomes. The effect can be increased when the welfare system treats the same income as a shared income thereby denying welfare access to the non-earning spouse. Such systems apply in Australia and Canada, for example.

Other considerations

Sometimes people marry for purely pragmatic reasons, sometimes called a marriage of convenience or sham marriage. For example, according to one publisher of information about "green card" marriages, "Every year over 450,000 United States citizens marry foreign-born individuals and petition for them to obtain a permanent residency (Green Card) in the United States."[101] While this is likely an over-estimate, in 2003 alone 184,741 immigrants were admitted to the U.S. as spouses of U.S. citizens.[102] Many more were admitted as fiancés of US citizens for the purpose of being married within 90 days. Regardless of the number of people entering the US to marry a US citizen, it does not indicate the number of these marriages that are convenience marriages, which number could include some of those with the motive of obtaining permanent residency, but also include many people who are US citizens. One example would be to obtain an inheritance that has a marriage clause. Another example would be to save money on health insurance or to enter a health plan with preexisting conditions offered by the new spouse's employer. Many other situations exist, and, in fact, all marriages have a complex combination of conveniences motivating the parties to marry. A marriage of convenience is one that is devoid of normal reasons to marry.

Some people want to marry a person with higher or lower status than them. Others want to marry people who have similar status. Hypergyny refers to the act of seeking out those who are of slightly higher social status. In most cases, hypergyny refers to women wanting men of higher status. Isogyny refers to the act of seeking out those who are of similar status.


In most societies, the death of one of the partners terminates the marriage, and in monogamous societies this allows the other partner to remarry, though sometimes after a waiting or mourning period.

Many societies also provide for the termination of marriage through divorce. Marriages can also be annulled in some societies, where an authority declares that a marriage never happened. In either event the people concerned are free to remarry (or marry). After divorce, one spouse may have to pay alimony.

The absolute right of two married partners to consent to divorce was only recognized in western nations in recent decades. In the United States no-fault divorce was first recognized in California in 1969 and the final state to recognize it was New York in 1989 [2].

Several cultures have practiced temporary and conditional marriages. Examples include the Celtic practice of handfasting and fixed-term marriages in the Muslim community. Pre-Islamic Arabs practiced a form of temporary marriage that carries on today in the practice of Nikah Mut'ah, a fixed-term marriage contract. Muslim controversies related to Nikah Mut'ah have resulted in the practice being confined mostly to Shi'ite communities.

Societal considerations

President of the Institute for American Values David Blankenhorn claims that children who grow up in homes where parents are married to one another are less likely to be impoverished, to have emotional or behavioral problems, to engage in premature sexual relations, to use drugs, or to commit suicide.[103]

Post-marital residence

Early theories explaining the determinants of postmarital residence (e.g., Lewis Henry Morgan, Edward Tylor, or George Peter Murdock) connected it with the sexual division of labor. However, to date, cross-cultural tests of this hypothesis using worldwide samples have failed to find any significant relationship between these two variables. However, Korotayev's tests show that the female contribution to subsistence does correlate significantly with matrilocal residence in general; however, this correlation is masked by a general polygyny factor. Although an increase in the female contribution to subsistence tends to lead to matrilocal residence, it also tends simultaneously to lead to general non-sororal polygyny which effectively destroys matrilocality. If this polygyny factor is controlled (e.g., through a multiple regression model), division of labor turns out to be a significant predictor of postmarital residence. Thus, Murdock's hypotheses regarding the relationships between the sexual division of labor and postmarital residence were basically correct, though, as has been shown by Korotayev, the actual relationships between those two groups of variables are more complicated than he expected.[104][105]

In modern societies we observe a trend toward the neolocal residence.[106]

Contemporary views on marriage


Many people have proposed arguments against marriage for various reasons. These include political and religious criticisms, reference to the divorce rate, as well as celibacy for religious or philosophical reasons.

Controversial views

Many controversies have arisen over the centuries in relation to marriage - including issues relating to the suitability of partners of different denominations, faiths, tribes or races, the acceptable number and minimum age of wives, the rights of partners, especially wives, and wider family obligations. For example, a contemporary controversy of particular significance in the USA concerns the exclusion of homosexual relationships from legal and social recognition and the rights and obligations it provides. Social conservatives opposed to same-sex marriage in some countries claim that any attempt to define marriage to include anything other than the union of one man and one woman would "deprive the term of its fundamental and defining meaning."[107] In other countries, polygamy is a "socially conservative" practice.[citation needed] Advocates of same-faith marriage and same-race marriage may criticize the legalization of interfaith marriage[108] and interracial marriage,[109] respectively.

Currently 37 U.S. states have passed laws which define marriage as limited to a union between one man and one woman: 33 state legislatures have passed statutes to that effect, and 4 states (Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska and Nevada) have, by popular vote, passed Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMAs) as constitutional amendments; the Ohio state legislature is currently debating a Defense of Marriage Act. Thirteen states, therefore, do not currently have laws on their books which limit marriage to a union between one man and one woman.[110]

The state of Massachusetts has sued the U.S. federal government over its definition of marriage. The lawsuit, brought by the first state to legalize gay marriage, said the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) infringed on a state's sovereign right to define marital status. The lawsuit alleges that DOMA infringed on a state's sovereign right to define marital status and is unconstitutional.[111]

See also

Views of marriage

Types of marriages

Events and situations related to marriage

Legal issues and implications of marriage

  • Adultery - Sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse.
  • Alimony - obligation of support.
  • Annulment - legal procedure for declaring a marriage null and void.
  • Bride Price - The amount of money or property or wealth paid by the groom or his family to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to the groom
  • Dowry - the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage
  • Head and Master laws
  • Inheritance
  • Marriage law

Other Related concepts


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