Marriage is a socially sanctioned union, typically of one man and one woman, in this connection called husband and wife. Typically they form a family, socially, through forming a household, which is often subsequently extended biologically, through children. It is found in all societies, but in widely varying forms. There are many variants on this basic form, many of which are discussed below: see same-sex marriage and polygamy for two controversial variants (which no country allows both).
Marriage is generally recognized by religion and/or the state. State-sanctioned legal marriage is often known as civil marriage. In many states the civil marriage ceremony may take place during the a religious marriage ceremony, by they are two distinct entities. In most American states the marriage may be officiated by an minister, priest or religious authority and in such a case the religious and civil marriage have merged. In some countries such as France and Russia it is necessary to get married by the state before having a religious ceremony. Some states allow civil marriages which are not allowed by many religions, such as same-sex marriages or civil unions and marriage may also be created by the operation of the law alone as in common-law marriage which is a judicial recognition that two people living as domestic partners are entitled to the effects of marriage. Conversely, there are examples of people who have a religious ceremony which is not recognized civilly. Examples include widows who stand to lose a pension if they remarry and so undergo a marriage in the eyes of god[?], gay or lesbian couples, some breakaway sects of Mormonism which recognize polygamy, Islamic men who wish to engage in polygamy that is condoned in their particular sect of Islam and immigrants who are preparing to travel to more developed countries but who do not wish to alert to the immigration authorities that they are married either to a spouse they are leaving behind or because of the complexity of immigration laws that may make it difficult for their spouse to visit them on a tourist visa.
The type and functions of marriage vary from culture to culture. In the United States, Europe, and China in the early 21st century, legally sanctioned marriages are monogamous and divorce is relatively simple and socially sanctioned. Legally sanctioned marriages are generally conducted between heterosexual couples, although there is a controversial movement to sanction gay marriage. The prevailing view toward marriage is that it be based on emotional attachment between the partners and entered into voluntarily.
In the Islamic world, marriage is sanctioned between a man and up to four women. In Imperial China, formal marriage was sanctioned only between a man and a woman, although a man could take several concubines and the children from the union were considered legitimate.
Typically, it is the institution through which people join together their lives in emotional and economic ways through forming a household. It often confers rights and obligations with respect to raising children, holding property, sexual behaviour, kinship ties, tribal membership, relationship to society, inheritance, emotional intimacy, and love.
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; establishes a relationship between the families of the husband and wife. No society does all of these; no one of these is universal (see Edmund Leach's article in "Marriage, Family, and Residence," edited by Paul Bohannan and John Middleton).
In the United States, a marriage is typically a formally declared, officially recognized, and ostensibly permanent relationship existing between a man and a woman. Indeed, 36 states have laws defining marriage as "a union between a man and a woman". On closer examination, "marriage" has four main facets:
The ceremony in which a marriage is enacted and announced to the community is called a wedding. A wedding in which a couple 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, where someone chooses a religious ceremony, they must also hold that ceremony separate from the civil ceremony. In some countries, notably the United States, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland 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 recognising religious marriages; the 'civil' ceremony takes place as part but separate from, the religious ceremony. Often this simply involves signing a register during the religious ceremony. If for whatever reason, that civil element of the full ceremony is left out, in the eyes of the law no marriage took place, irrespective of the holding of the religious ceremony.
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. This promise was known as the verbum. At first, the Catholic Church did not conduct or recognise marriages, but priests did step in to witness the verbum and so be able to help resolve disputes about whether the couple in fact married themselves. At the Council of Trent, the Church declared marriage a sacrament. 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.
In most societies, marriage was polygynic, where a man could have multiple wives, but even there, the vast majority of men had only one. In such societies, multiple wives is generally considered a sign of wealth and power. The status of multiple wives varied from one society to another. In Islamic societies, the different wives were considered equal while in Imperial China, one woman was considered the primary wife while the other women were considered concubines. Among the upper classes, the primary wife was an arranged marriage with an elaborate formal ceremony while the concubines were taken on later with minimal ceremony.
There were also many societies that were monogamous, where a person could be married to only one person at once, and very few polyandrous, where a woman could have multiple husbands. Societies which permit group marriage[?] are extremely rare, but have existed in utopian societies such as the Oneida Community.
Because of recent expansion of monogamous Europeans, monogamy is much more popular than it was ever before. However, in 21st century Western cultures, while bigamy and sexual relations outside marriage is generally socially or legally frowned-upon, divorce and remarriage has been relatively easy to undertake. This has lead to a practice which some have called serial polygamy. In particular, some have argued that the pattern of the rich divorcing their first wives and then taking on a trophy wife is similar to patterns of polygamy in other societies.
Societies have always placed restrictions on marriage to relatives, though the degree of prohibited blood relationship varies widely. In almost all societies marriage between brothers and sisters is forbidden with Egyptian royalty being the rare exception. In many societies marriage between some first-cousins is preferred, while at the other extreme, the mediaeval Catholic church prohibited marriage between distant cousins. Many societies have also adopted other restrictions on who one can marry, such as prohibitions on marrying persons with the same surname, or persons with the same sacred animal.
Within Chinese societies, marriage with persons of the same surname is generally considered taboo, and many Chinese areas will have local taboos against marriages between people with certain surnames which are considered closely related. The sanctions against this action are informal social ones rather than formal legal ones, however.
Anthropologists refer to these sort of restrictions as exogamy. One exception to this pattern is in ancient Egypt, where marriage between brothers and sisters was permitted in the royal family; this privilege was denied commoners and may have served to concentrate wealth and power in one family (See also incest). The consequence of the incest-taboo is exogamy, the requirement to marry someone from another group. Anthropologists have thus pointed out that the incest-taboo may serve to promote social solidarity.
Societies have also at times required marriage from within a certain group. Anthropologists refer to these restrictions as endogamy[?]. An example of such a restrictions would be a requirement to marry someone from the same tribe. Racist laws adopted by some societies in the past to prohibit marriage of peoples of different races, or miscegenation, could also be considered examples of endogamy.
Many societies provide for the termination of marriage through divorce. Marriages can also be annulled, which is a legal proceeding that establishes that a marriage was never valid from the beginning.
Marriage has traditionally been a prerequisite for starting a family, which usually serves as the building block of a community and society. Thus, marriage not only serves the interests of the two individuals, but also the interests of their children and the society of which they are a part.
Religious aspects of marriage
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. In the Catholic Church, marriage is one of the seven sacraments. In the Eastern Orthodox church, it is one of the Mysteries, and is seen as an ordination and a martyrdom. In marriage, Christians see a picture of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church. In Judaism, marriage is so important that remaining unmarried is deemed unnatural. Islam also recommends marriage highly; among other things, it helps in the pursuit of spiritual perfection. Hinduism sees marriage as a sacred duty that entails both religious and social obligations. By contrast, Buddhism does not encourage or discourage marriage, although it does teach how one might live a happily married life.
It is also worth noting that different religions have different beliefs as regards the breakup of marriage. For example, the Roman Catholic Church believes it is morally wrong to divorce, and divorceÚs cannot remarry in a church marriage, though they can do in the eyes of the law. In the area of nullity, religions and the state often apply different rules, meaning that a couple, for example, could have their marriage annulled by the Catholic Church but still be married in the eyes of the law, because the state disagrees with the church over whether an annulment could be granted in a particular case. This produces the phenomenon of Catholics getting church annulments simultaneously with state divorces, allowing the ex-partners to marry other people in the eyes of both the church and the state.
In many areas of the world, when a woman was in her early teens her father arranged a marriage for her in return for a brideprice[?]. Women were sold as wives. It was often to a man twice her age who was a stranger to her. Her older husband then became her guardian and she was cut off almost completely from her family. The woman had little or no say in the marriage negotiations and many times the marriage arrangement occurred without her knowledge. If a woman failed to bear a male child she could be given back to her father. This reflects one traditional purpose of marriage: that of bearing children and extending the family to succeeding generations.
Women were expected to be virgins before their marriage and in Europe, even into the twentieth century in rural Greece, as an indication of this, the bloody bed sheet from the wedding night would often be displayed on the side of the house. Women were expected to be sexually faithful to their husbands. In some countries if any sign of infidelity showed up then a man was obligated to divorce his wife; in other countries the woman could be put to death. On the other hand, men were allowed to have concubines (who, in many cases, were women whose fathers couldn't afford a dowry so they were given away), mistresses, and even multiple wives. Wives usually lost what little freedom they had as a single woman.
Often marriage was a traumatic, unpleasant turn of events for a girl. "The Lot of Women[?]" written in Athens in the mid 5th century BC laments this fact: "Young women, in my opinion, have the sweetest existence known to mortals in their father's homes, for their innocence always keeps children safe and happy. But when we reach puberty and can understand, we are thrust out and sold away from our ancestral gods[?] and from our parents. Some go to strange men's homes, others to foreigner's, some to joyless houses, some to hostile. And all this once the first night has yoked us to our husband we are forced to praise and say that all is well." On the other hand, marriage has often served to assure the woman of her husband's continued support and enabled her to focus more attention on the raising of her children. This security has typically been greater when and where divorce was more difficult to obtain.
Some wedding traditions are still apparent today in the United States; many women are still symbolically "given away" by their fathers. Some brides still vow to "love and obey" their husbands and some bridegrooms vow to "care for" their wives. A groom might remove "his" bride's garter, a symbol of her virginity, as a public representation of his claim on her sexuality. Brides toss their bouquets towards a group of single women, who compete to catch the bouquet. The woman who catches the bouquet is believed to have the good fortune to be the next woman to get married.
When two people marry they may have the choice between keeping their property separate or combining their property. In the latter case, when the marriage ends by divorce each owns half; if one partner dies the surviving partner owns half and for the other half inheritance rules apply.
It is possible to analyze the institution of marriage using economic theory; see David Friedman, Price Theory: Chapter 21: The Economics of Love and Marriage (http://www.best.com/~ddfr/Academic/Price_Theory/PThy_Chapter_21/PThy_Chap_21).