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Marriage is an interpersonal relationship with governmental, social, or religious recognition, usually intimate and sexual, and often created as a contract, or through civil process. Civil marriage is the legal concept of marriage.

The most frequently occurring form of marriage unites a man and a woman as husband and wife.[1][2] Other forms of marriage also exist; for example, polygamy, in which a person takes more than one spouse (marriage partner), is common in many societies.[3] Beginning in 2001, civil marriage in some places has been expanded to include same-sex marriage.[4]

The reasons people marry vary, but usually include one or more of the following: legal, social and economic stability; the formation of a family unit; procreation and the education and nurturing of children; legitimizing sexual relations; public declaration of love.[5][6]

A marriage is often declared by a wedding ceremony,[7] which may be performed by a religious officiator, through a similar government-sanctioned secular officiator, or (in weddings that have no church or state affiliation) by a trusted friend of the wedding participants. The act of marriage usually creates obligations between the individuals involved, and in many societies, their extended families. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Finding a partner

In order to get married, it is necessary to find a suitable partner.[How to reference and link to summary or text] A partner may be found by the person wishing to be married via a process of courtship. Alternately, two marriageable people may be matched by a third party, typically with the match finalized only if both candidates approve the union. This is known as an arranged marriage.

The choice between courtship and arranged marriage is made by the person seeking marriage or by his or her parents. In some cases, the parents will be ready to force an arranged marriage because of cultural tradition (e.g., in the Middle East) or for some other special reason (e.g., dowry). It is worth noting, however, that in many cases the person seeking marriage is comfortable with having his or her marriage arranged and, even disregarding parental preference, would freely choose an arranged marriage. Actual forced marriage is common in only a few communities and often attracts harsh criticism even from people who are generally in favor of arranged marriage.

Given a choice, the preference for the method of courtship or arranged marriage is determined by whether a person believes that marriage should be based on emotion or logic. At one end of the scale is a person who believes that there is only one unique "soul mate" suitable for them. A partner is typically chosen based on the depth of emotional connection experienced with their partner during the courtship phase of the relationship. At the other end of the scale is a person who believes that there are many suitable partners, and typically views marriage chiefly as a means to start a family. The deep emotional bond between partners characteristic of good marriages is more likely to be viewed as something which can be developed through nurture and cultivation with any suitable partner. Most people fall somewhere between these two extremes.

Arranged marriage

File:Lodewijk XIV-Marriage.jpg

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

A pragmatic (or 'arranged') marriage is facilitated 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. Some of the most popular uses of arranged marriage are for dowry or immigration.

Though now a rarity in Western countries, arranged marriages in countries such as India are widely prevalent even today. In illiterate villages, the marriage of a child often has much to do with family property. Parents adopt the practice of child marriage and arrange the wedding sometimes even before the child is born (though this practice was made illegal by Child Marriage Restraint Act of the Indian Government). In urban India, people use thriving institutions known as Marriage Bureaus or a Matrimonials Sites, where candidates register themselves for a small fee.

A related form of pragmatic marriage, sometimes called a marriage of convenience, involves immigration laws. According to one publisher of information about "green card" marriages, "Every year over 450,000 thousand United States citizens marry foreign-born individuals and petition for them to obtain a permanent residency (Green Card) in the United States."[8] 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.[9]



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File:Brauysegen im Bett.gif

A woodcut of a medieval wedding ceremony from Germany

Marriage of some kind exists in nearly every society. Except in societies where post-marital residence is traditionally matrilocal, patrilocal, or avunculocal, married people typically form a household, which is most often a subsequently extended biologically, through children. Among Western cultures, the nuclear family emerged during the late medieval period.[10] Most non-Western societies have a broader definition of family that includes an extended family network. Marriage is the sole mechanism for the creation of affinal ties (in-laws). [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Although the institution of marriage pre-dates reliable recorded history, many cultures have legends or religious beliefs concerning the origins of marriage.[11]

In Britain

Marriage remains relevant as the union that socially sanctions a sexual relationship. In the law of England and Wales, children whose parents were not married to each other at the time of their birth were known as bastards. They were considered illegitimate, meaning they usually could not inherit wealth or titles. This has also applied to children who were born inside a marriage which was then annulled; the two daughters of Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I, were declared illegitimate after their father annulled the marriages that they had been born into.

In Catholicism, the Council of Trent made the validity of marriage dependent upon its being performed before a priest and 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."[12]

Marriage has changed throughout the history of Europe, in the 1200's in England it was unlawful for a woman younger than 24 years to marry but this changed, beginning in the 1500's, to 20 years of age.[13]

In the Middle Ages the Church only allowed annulment for consanguinity and adultery but during the reformation, Luther and others made marriage a civil institution instead of a sacramental one. This made way for the rights of women to divorce their husbands for faults such as impotency.[14]

In the United Kingdom, the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907 was a statute passed by Parliament that removed the prohibition forbidding a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife.

European monogamy

European culture and the cultures of the Americas, so far as they descend from it, have for the most part defined themselves as monogamous cultures. This partially stemmed from Christianity, Germanic cultural traditions [verification needed] and the mandate of Roman Law. However, Roman Law permitted prostitution, concubinage, and sexual access to slaves. The Christian West formally banned these practices with laws against adultery, fornication, and other relationships outside a monogamous, lifelong covenant.


The participants in a marriage usually seek social recognition for their relationship, and many societies require official approval of a religious or civil body.

In the early modern era, John Calvin (1509 – 1564) and his Protestant colleagues reformulated Christian marriage through enactment of The Marriage Ordinance of Geneva,which imposes "The dual requirements of state registration and church consecration to constitute marriage."[15]

In England and Wales, it was Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act 1753 that first required formal ceremony of marriage, thereby curtailing the practice of Fleet Marriage.

In many jurisdictions, the civil marriage ceremony may take place during the religious marriage ceremony, although they are theoretically distinct. In most American states, the marriage may be officiated by a priest, minister, rabbi or other religious authority, and in such a case the religious authority acts simultaneously as an agent of the state. In some countries, such as France, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Argentina, Japan and Russia, it is necessary to be married by the state separate from (usually before) any religious ceremony, with the state ceremony being the legally binding one. Some states allow civil marriages in circumstances which are not allowed by many religions, such as same-sex marriages or civil unions.

Marriage may also be created by the operation of the law alone, as in common-law marriage, sometimes called "marriage by habit and repute." This is a judicial recognition that two people who have been living as domestic partners are entitled to the effects of marriage. However, in the UK at least, common-law marriage has been abolished and there are no rights available unless a couple marries or enters into a civil partnership. Conversely, there are examples of people who have a religious ceremony that is not recognized by the civil authorities. Examples include widows who stand to lose a pension if they remarry legally, same-sex couples (where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized), some sects which recognize polygamy, retired couples who would lose pension benefits if legally married, Muslim men who wish to engage in polygamy that is condoned in some situations under Islam, and immigrants who do not wish to alert the immigration authorities that they are married either to a spouse they are leaving behind or because the complexity of immigration laws may make it difficult for spouses to visit on a tourist visa.

In Europe, it has traditionally been the churches' office to make marriages official by registering them. Hence, it was a significant step towards a clear separation of church and state and also an intended and sufficient weakening of the Christian churches' role in Germany, when Chancellor Otto von Bismarck introduced the Zivilehe (civil marriage) in 1875. This law made the declaration of the marriage before an official clerk of the civil administration (both spouses affirming their will to marry) the procedure to make a marriage legally valid and effective, and reduced the clerical marriage to an optional private ceremony.

Rights and obligations

File:V03p128a01 Ketubah.jpg

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

Marriage sometimes establishes the legal father of a woman's child; establishes the legal mother of a man's child; gives the husband or his family control over the wife's sexual services, labor, and/or property; gives the wife or her family control over the husband's sexual services, labor, and/or property; establishes a joint fund of property for the benefit of children; or establishes a relationship between the families of the husband and wife. No society ascribes all of these rights to marriage, and none are universal (see Edmund Leach's article in "Marriage, Family, and Residence," edited by Paul Bohannan and John Middleton).

Marriage is not a prerequisite for having children. In the U.S., the National Center for Health Statistics reported that in 1992, 30.1 percent of births were to unmarried women.[16][17] Some married couples remain childless by choice or due to infertility, age, or other factors preventing reproduction. In some cultures, marriage imposes upon women the obligation 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.[18]

Most of the world's major religions tell couples they should marry before having sexual intercourse.[19] They teach that unmarried people should not have sex, which they refer to as fornication. Fornication is sometimes socially discouraged or even criminalized. Sex with a married person other than one's spouse, called adultery, is universally condemned by all major world religions, and has often been criminalized. It is also against the governing law of the U.S. military. Nevertheless, three recent studies in the U.S. using nationally representative samples have found that about 10-15% of women and 20-25% of men engage in extramarital sex.[20][21][22]

Conversely, a marriage is commonly held to require a sexual relationship, and non-consummation (that is, failure to engage in sex) may be held grounds for an annulment (e.g., John Ruskin's abortive marriage).

See also: Rights and responsibilities of marriages in the United States


Main article: Polygamy

Polygamous marriage, in which a person takes more than one spouse, is accepted in a majority of global social traditions, though it is far less common than monogamy.[3] Africa has the highest rate of polygamy in the world.[23] In Senegal, for example, nearly 47 percent of marriages are multiple.[24] Polygyny is the typical form of polygamy, while polyandry is rare.[25] Anthropologists distinguish between these forms of multiple marriage, where one person separately marries more than one spouse, and group marriage, in which multiple spouses all become married to one another. The group marriage form of polygamy is rare.[3] In the U.S., the historic Oneida Colony provides a prominent 19th-century example of a polygamous group marriage.

Marriage restrictions

In 2004, the American Anthropological Association released this statement:[26]

The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.

Many societies, even some with a cultural tradition of polygamy, recognize monogamy as the only valid form of marriage. For example, China shifted from allowing polygamy to supporting only monogamy in the Marriage Act of 1953 after the Communist revolution. Polygamy is practiced illegally by some groups in the United States and Canada, primarily by Mormon fundamentalist sects that separated from the mainstream Latter Day Saints movement after the practice was renounced in 1890. Many African and Islamic societies still allow polygamy.

Since the later decades of the 20th century, many ideas about the nature and purpose of marriage and family have been challenged in some countries, in particular by LGBT social movements, which argue that marriage should not be exclusively heterosexual. Some people also argue that marriage may be an unnecessary legal fiction.[How to reference and link to summary or text] This follows from an overall shift in ideas and practices of family; since World War II, the West has seen a dramatic increase in divorce (6% to over 40% of first marriages),[27] cohabitation without marriage, a growing unmarried population, children born outside of marriage (5% to over 33% of births), and an increase in adultery (8% to over 40%)[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Consequently, a de facto system of serial monogamy has emerged. On the other hand, demands for same-sex marriage have led to its legalization in some Western countries.

Today, the term marriage is generally reserved for a union that is formally recognized by the state (although some people disagree). The phrase legally married can be used to emphasize this point. In the United States, there are two methods of receiving state recognition of a marriage: common law marriage and obtaining a marriage license. The majority of US states do not recognize common law marriage.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Other localities may support various types of domestic partnerships.

Many countries regulate the age at which one can get married. As early as 1798, Thomas Malthus proposed delaying the age of marriage to alleviate overpopulation. Societies have often placed restrictions on marriage to relatives, though the degree of prohibited relationship varies widely. In most societies, marriage between brothers and sisters has been forbidden, with Ancient Egyptian, Hawaiian, and Inca royalty being prominent exceptions. In many societies, marriage between some first cousins is preferred, while at the other extreme, the medieval Catholic church prohibited marriage even between distant cousins. The present day Catholic Church still maintains a standard of required distance (in both consanguinity and affinity) for marriage.

In the Indian Hindu community, especially in the Brahmin caste, marrying a person of the same gotra was prohibited, since persons belonging to the same gotra are said to have identical patrilineal descent. In ancient India, when gurukuls existed, the shishyas (pupils) were advised against marrying any of guru's children, as shishyas were also considered the guru's children and it would be considered marriage among siblings. However, there were exceptions, including Arjuna's son Abhimanyu's marriage to Uttra, the dance student of Arjuna in Mahabharata. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 brought reforms in the area of same-gotra marriages, which were banned prior to the act's passage. Now the Indian constitution allows any two consenting adults (women 18 or older and men 21 or older) from any race, religion, caste, or creed to marry.

Many societies have also adopted other restrictions on whom one can marry, such as prohibitions of marrying persons with the same surname, or persons with the same sacred animal. Anthropologists refer to these sorts of restrictions as exogamy. One example is South Korea's general taboo against a man marrying a woman with the same family name. The most common surname in South Korea is Kim (almost 20%); however, there are several branches (or clans) in the Kim surname. (Korean family names are divided into one or more clans.) Only intra-clan marriages are prohibited, as they are considered one type of exogamy. Thus, many "Kim-Kim" couples can be found.

Societies have also at times required marriage from within a certain group. Anthropologists refer to these restrictions as endogamy. An example of such restrictions would be a requirement to marry someone from the same tribe. Racist laws adopted by some societies in the past—such as Nazi-era Germany, apartheid-era South Africa and most of the United States in the nineteenth and the first half of the 20th century—which prohibited marriage between persons of different races could also be considered examples of endogamy. In the U.S., laws banning interracial marriage, which were state laws, were gradually repealed between 1948 and 1967. The U.S. Supreme Court declared all such laws unconstitutional in the case of Loving v. Virginia in 1967.[28]

Cultures that practice slavery might admit that slave marriages form, but grant them no legal status. This was the practice under the Roman empire, so that in the Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas, the freewoman Perpetua could be described as "a married matron" but Felicitas as the "fellow-servant" of Revocatus — even though the Christians regarded, religiously, such marriages as binding. Likewise, slave marriages in the United States were not binding, so that many contrabands escaping slavery during the American Civil War sought official status for their marriages. Among the rights distinguishing serfdom from slavery was the right to enter a legally recognizable marriage.


Main article: Wedding
File:Shinto married couple.jpg

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

A marriage may be celebrated with a wedding ceremony,[29] which can be performed by a religious officiator or through a similar government-sanctioned secular process. Despite the ceremony being led by someone else, most religious traditions maintain that the marriage itself is mediated between the two individuals through vows, with the gathered audience witnessing, affirming, and legitimizing the marriage.

The ceremony in which a marriage is enacted and announced to the community is called a wedding. A wedding in which the participants marry in the "eyes of the law" is called a civil marriage. Religions also facilitate weddings, in the "eyes of God". In many European and some Latin American countries, a religious ceremony must be held separate from the civil ceremony. Certain countries, like Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Turkey,[30] demand that the civil marriage take place before any religious marriage. In some countries — notably the United States, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Norway and Spain — both ceremonies can be held together; the officiant at the religious and community ceremony also serves as an agent of the state to enact the civil marriage. That does not mean that the state is "recognizing" religious marriages — the "civil" ceremony just takes 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, no marriage took place in the eyes of the law.

While some countries, such as Australia, permit marriages to be held in private and at any location, others, including England, require that the civil ceremony be conducted in a place specially sanctioned by law (i.e., a church or registry office), and be open to the public. 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. Because of Australia's very relaxed rules on marriage, some celebrities have opted to marry in Australia to have a private ceremony (for example for Michael Jackson's second marriage).

The way in which a marriage is enacted has changed over time, as has the institution of marriage itself. In Europe during the Middle Ages, marriage was enacted by the couple promising verbally to each other that they would be married to each other; the presence of a priest or other witnesses was not required. This promise was known as the "verbum". If made in the present tense (e.g. "I marry you"), it was unquestionably binding; if made in the future tense ("I will marry you"), it would constitute a betrothal, but if the couple proceeded to have sexual relations, the union was a marriage. 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 heavy state involvement in marriage. As part of the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church added a requirement of witnesses to the promise, which under normal circumstances had to include the priest.

Marriage and religion

Main article: Religious aspects of marriage
See also: Christian views of marriage
File:Muslim wedding in India.jpg

A Muslim couple being wed alongside the Tungabhadra River at Hampi, India.

Many religions have extensive teachings regarding marriage. Most Christian churches give some form of blessing to a marriage; the wedding ceremony typically includes some sort of pledge by the community to support the couple's relationship. Religious communities widely hold marriage as a relationship uniquely allegorical to God's relationship with the people; the husband represents God and the bride represents the whole of God's chosen people.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Liturgical Christian communions—notably Anglicanism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy—consider marriage (sometimes termed holy matrimony) to be an expression of grace, termed a sacrament or mystery. In Western ritual, the sacrament is bestowed upon a husband and wife by the spouses themselves, with a bishop, priest, or deacon normally witnessing the union on behalf of the church. In Eastern ritual churches, the clergyman functions as the minister. Western Christians commonly term marriage a vocation, while Eastern Christians term it an ordination and a martyrdom, though the theological emphases indicated by the various appellations are not excluded by the catechetical 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 iconic of the relationship between Christ and the Church. While most Reformed Christians would deny the elevation of marriage to the status of a sacrament, nonetheless it is considered a covenant between spouses before God.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

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.[31] Though procreation is not the sole purpose, Jewish marriage is also expected to fulfill the commandment to have children.[32] 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.

Islam also recommends marriage highly; among other things, it helps in the pursuit of spiritual perfection. Age of marriage is whenever the individuals feel ready, financially and emotionally, for marriage. It should also be noted that in Islam, marriage is not a religious concept as it is in many religions, but a civil contract between a man and a woman.

The Bahá'í Faith sees marriage as a foundation of the structure of society, and considers it both a physical and spiritual bond that endures into the afterlife.

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" (marriage performed by abduction of one participant by the other participant, usually, but not always, with the help of other persons). There are elaborate laws in Manusmriti directing which castes and which varnas can marry which castes, and the penalties for breaking these nuptial laws.

For the most part, religious traditions in the world reserve marriage to heterosexual unions, but there are exceptions including Unitarian Universalist and Metropolitan Community Church.[33]

Marriage and cohabitation

Marriage is an institution which can join together people's lives in emotional and economic ways. Marriage can also lead to the formation of a new household, but among some people (e.g. the Minangkabau of West Sumatra), residency after marriage is matrilocal, with the husband moving into the pre-existing household of his wife's mother.[34]

In many Western cultures, married people usually live together in the same home, often sharing the same bed, but in some other regions this is not the tradition.[35] In southwestern China, for example, walking marriages, in which the husband and wife do not live together, have been a traditional part of the Mosuo culture.[36] Walking 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."[37] A similar arrangement in Saudi Arabia, called misyar marriage, also involves the husband and wife living separately but meeting regularly.[38]

Conversely, marriage is not a prerequisite for cohabitation. In one study, Jay Teachman, a researcher at Western Washington University, studied premarital cohabitation of women who are in a monogamous relationship.[39] Teachman’s study showed "women who are committed to one relationship, who have both premarital sex and cohabit only with the man they eventually marry, have no higher incidence of divorce than women who abstain from premarital sex and cohabitation. For women in this category, premarital sex and cohabitation with their eventual husband are just two more steps in developing a committed, long-term relationship."[40]

Marriage and economics

Historical traditions

The economics of marriage have changed over time. Historically, in many cultures the family of the bride had to provide a dowry to pay a man for marrying their daughter. In Early Modern Britain, the social status of the couple was supposed to be equal. After the marriage, the entire property (called "fortune") and expected inheritances of the wife belonged only to her husband (a frequent subject in Early Modern British literature); she was often called "his property", which did then include the protection a single woman did not have. In other cultures, the family of the groom had to pay a bride price to the bride's family for the right to marry the daughter. In some cultures, dowries and bride prices are still demanded today. In both cases, the financial transaction takes place between the groom (or his family) and the bride's family; the bride has no part in the transaction and often no choice in whether to participate in the marriage.

In some cultures, dowries were not unconditional gifts. 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 return to her family, and sometimes not until the groom's death or remarriage. Often the bride was entitled to inherit at least as much as her dowry from her husband's estate.

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.

Modern conventions

In many modern legal systems, two people who marry have the choice between keeping their property separate or combining their property. In the latter case, called community property, when the marriage ends by divorce each owns half; if one partner dies the surviving partner owns half and inheritance rules apply to the other half.[How to reference and link to summary or text] 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 to the spouse first and secondarily 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 defence 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 analyse the institution of marriage using economic theory; for example, anarcho-capitalist economist David Friedman has written a lengthy and controversial study of marriage as a market transaction (the market for husbands and wives).[41]


Most countries use progressive taxes, in which the tax rate is higher for a taxpayer with a higher income. In some of these 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 for 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.

Hypergyny and isogamy

In some cultures, women are expected to marry a spouse who is more economically, socially, or politically powerful. Known as hypergyny, this practice is common in India.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Though an expected social norm in America, hypergyny is slowly being replaced by isogamy, marriage between equals, and the marrying 'down' of woman.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Many anthropologists ascribe this to increased gender equality between women and men.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Same-sex marriage

Main article: Same-sex marriage

Since 2001, five nations have made same-sex marriage legal, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa. Israel, Aruba, and the Netherlands Antilles recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. In the United States, Massachusetts and Iowa are the only states to recognize same-sex marriage under the name marriage. Civil unions are a separate form of legal union open to couples of the same sex, often carrying the same entailments as opposite-sex marriage under a different name. Denmark was the first country in the world (in 1989) to extend the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples under the name of registered partnership. Civil unions (and registered partnerships) are currently recognized in 24 out of 193 countries worldwide and in some U.S. states. Many U.S. states have adopted referendums or laws that generally restrict marriage recognition to opposite-sex couples. Federally, the U.S. Senate has considered, and failed to pass, a Federal Marriage Amendment. In Australia, de facto relationships are legally recognized in many, but not all, ways,[42] [43] with some states having registers of de facto relationships, although the federal government has amended existing legislation to specify that only marriages between a man and a woman will be recognized as 'marriages'. [44]. As a result, the Australian Capital Territory's 2006 Bill to give civil unions identical status and processes as registered marriages, was repealed by the federal government before it came into effect.

Civil unions are recognized and accepted in approximately 30 countries. Same-sex marriages have also been recorded in the history of pre-modern Europe.[45] Same-sex marriage remains statistically insignificant worldwide, as it is not legally recognized in most countries.[clarify]

 However, in countries where it has been adopted, applications for marriage licenses have far exceeded governmental estimates of demand.[46] As homosexuality has become more accepted in Western cultures, more governments are allowing and/or sanctioning marriage of same-sex couples.

These developments have created a political and religious reaction in some countries, most notably in the United Kingdom, where the Church of England, after long debate, officially banned blessings of gay couples by Church of England clergy,[47] and in the United States, where several states have specifically defined marriage as between a man and a woman, often by popular referendums.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The state of Mississippi passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. [3]PDF (29.9 KiB) The measure passed with 86% of the vote, the highest percentage seen on a statewide level[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Conversely, several states, such as California and Massachusetts, have sanctioned some form of same-sex unions. In addition, Lutheran churches in Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and some Lutheran churches of the Evangelical Church in Germany allow blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. In other countries, (such as Finland) such ceremonies are discouraged and rarely performed by the church.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Civil unions are a separate form of legal union open to couples of the same sex. Many more countries have legalized civil unions than those which have legalized same-sex marriage. Some religious denominations ceremonially perform civil unions, and recognize them as essentially equivalent to marriage.


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. In English speaking countries, the spouse who outlives the other is referred to as a widow (female) or widower (male). 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.

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.

Criticisms of the institution of marriage

Main article: Criticisms of the institution of marriage

Criticisms of marriage appear as ancient as the institution itself. (Plato's Republic, which recommends group marriage, is a famous early critique.) Commentators have often been critical of individual local practices and traditions, often leading to evolution in the institution. (For instance, the early Catholic Church's efforts to eliminate concubinage and temporary marriage, the Protestant authorization of divorce, the abolition in the 18th, 19th and 20th century of laws against inter-faith and inter-race marriages in Western countries, etc.)

Many contemporary critiques have developed from a feminist viewpoint and suggest that modern marriage can be particularly disadvantageous to women economically and socially. In a contrasting vein, father's rights advocates claim that a continuing societal bias towards women as custodial parents in the face of "no-fault" divorce laws is unjust to men when marriages fail. Criticisms of marriage by same-sex rights movements focus on the widespread exclusion of homosexual relationships from the legal and social sanction it provides, often likening this to largely defunct legal prohibitions and social taboos on cross-racial marriages.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

See also

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:


Main article: Types of marriages
  • Arranged marriage - marital partners are chosen by others. Marriage has fulfilled a role of diplomacy between monarchies and other dynastic contexts, such as business families. As marriages may be arranged for the union of families or other interests, love is not a universal prerequisite for marriage.
  • Boston marriage - marriage-like relationship between two women, not necessarily sexual.
  • Celestial marriage - a marriage within an LDS temple, where it is taught it can last forever.
  • Chinese marriage - arrangement between families.
  • Common-law marriage - class of interpersonal status.
  • Confarreatio and coemptio, two Roman forms of marriage
  • Covenant marriage - in some U.S. states, a form of marriage where divorce is made more difficult.
  • Digital marriage - two people who have no connection outside their gaming lives come together within a virtual community.
  • Fleet Marriage - Clandestine marriage in 18th century England in the vicinity of Fleet Prison.
  • Group marriage - Marriage between couples
  • Levirate marriage
  • Marriage of convenience
  • Mut'ah (temporary marriage in Islam banned by Sunnis but still practiced by Shias)
  • Morganatic marriage
  • Open marriage
  • Polygamy
  • Proxy marriage - Ceremony in which the bride, the groom, or both are not physically present and use stand-ins
  • Same-sex marriage
  • Sexless marriage - Marriage without sexual intercourse
  • Sororate marriage

Lists and statistics


Marital Status in the U.S.

Related concepts

  • Adultery - consensual 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.
  • Betrothal - formal state of engagement to be married.
  • Brideservice
  • Christian views of marriage - views of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and others
  • Covenant marriage
  • Divorce - ending of a marriage.
  • Engagement
  • Free love - a social movement opposed to marriage
  • Frequency of sexual activity
  • "Head and Master" laws
  • Husband / Wife
  • Inheritance
  • Separation - ending of a marriage.
  • Marriage (conflict)
  • Marriage gap
  • Marriage strike - Increasing ambivalence toward marriage in American men.
  • Marriageable age
  • Mail-order bride
  • Monogamy / Polygamy
  • Nikah urfi
  • Rights and responsibilities of marriages in the United States
  • Surrendered Wife
  • Wedding
  • Wedding ring
  • Living Apart Together


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  2. Merriam-Webster definition.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Murdock, George Peter (1949). Social Structure, New York: The MacMillan Company. ISBN 0-02-922290-7. See also: Kaingang.
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  13. Spitz, Lewis (1987). (The Rise of modern Europe) The protestant Reformation 1517-1559., pp 9, Harper Torchbooks.
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  31. (%20&verse= 24:1&src=JP Deuteronomy 24:1 )
  32. (%20&verse= 1:28&src=JP Genesis 1:28 )
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  41. The Economics of Love and Marriage
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Further reading