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Marriage is a relationship between individuals which has formed the foundation of the family for most societies. Marriage can include legal, social, and religious elements. In Western societies, marriage has traditionally been understood as a social contract between a man (husband) and a woman (wife), while in other parts of the world polygamy has been the most common form of marriage. Usually this has taken the form of polygyny (a man having several wives) but some societies have practised polyandry (a woman having several husbands). In some western societies today, same-sex marriages or civil partnerships are legally recognized, but remain a highly controversial issue in most.
Precise definitions vary historically and between and within cultures: modern understanding emphasizes the legitimacy of sexual relations in marriage, yet the universal and unique attribute of marriage is the creation of affinal ties (in-laws). Traditionally, societies encourage one to marry "out" far enough to strengthen the ties, but "close" enough so that the in-laws are "one of us" or "our kind". One exception to this rule is found in the marriage of royalty, who strengthen their aid through concentration of wealth rather than through affinal ties. Even in this case, the individual was often encouraged to marry "within" close family limits. (Further discussion and reference: Marvin Harris, late Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University)
Marriage remains important as the socially sanctioned bond in a sexual relationship. Marriage is usually understood as a male-female relationship designed to produce children and successfully socialize them. Historically, most societies have allowed some form of polygamy. The West is a major exception. Europe and the United States have defined themselves as monogamous cultures. This was in part a Germanic cultural tradition, a requirement of Christianity (after the sixth century CE), and a mandate of Roman Law. However, Roman Law supported prostitution, concubinage, sex outside of marriage, homosexual sex, and sexual access to slaves. The Christian West formally banned these practices.
Globally, most existing societies no longer allow polygamy as a form of marriage. For example, China shifted from allowing polygamy to supporting only monogamy in the 1953 Marriage act after the Communist revolution. Most African and Islamic societies continue to allow polygamy (around 2.0 billion people). This includes India where polygamy is permitted for Muslim citizens. Probably, less than 3% of all Muslim marriages are polygamous. It is increasingly expensive in an Urban setting, but more useful in rural areas where children are a future source of agricultural labor. Most of the world's population now live in societies where polygamy is less common and marriages are overwhelmingly monogamous.
Since the later decades of the 20th century many traditional assumptions about the nature and purpose of marriage and family have been challenged, in particular by gay rights advocacy groups, who disagree with the notion that marriage should be exclusively heterosexual. Some people also argue that marriage may be an unnecessary legal fiction. This is part of the general disruption of traditional families in the West. Since WWII the West has seen a dramatic increase in divorce (6% to over 40% of first marriages), cohabitation without marriage, a growing unmarried population, and children born outside of marriage (5% to over 33% of births), as well as an increase in adultery (8% to over 40%). A system of somewhat serial monogamy has de facto emerged. Still, legally recognized non-monogamous marriage arrangements are extremely rare.
In modern times, 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. Many localities do support various types of domestic partnerships.
Since the 12th century, marriage or holy matrimony has been a sacrament in the Catholic Church, as well as other Orthodoxies, where it is defined as a relationship between a man and a woman. The Protestant Reformation reformulated marriage as a life-long covenant. Marriage of some kind is found in most societies, and typically married people form a nuclear household, which is often subsequently extended biologically, through children. In the West the nuclear family emerged after 1100. Most non-Western societies have a broader definition of family that includes an extended family network. Alternatively, people may choose to be "childfree". Finally, they may be childless due to infertility, and possibly seek treatment or consider adoption. The term wedlock is a synonym for marriage, and is mainly used in the phrase "out of wedlock" to describe a child born of parents who were not married (see illegitimacy).
In some societies, there is a growing debate about the form(s) that marriage should take. Two of the most hotly-debated variants are discussed below: same-sex marriage - legal, by 2005, in some countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Canada (and the US state of Massachusetts) - and, polygamy.
The participants in a marriage usually seek social recognition for their relationship, and many societies require official approval of a religious or civil body. Sociologists thus distinguish between a marriage ceremony conducted under the auspices of a religion and a state-authorised civil 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, or religious authority, and in such a case the religious authority acts simultaneously as an agent of the state. In some countries such as France, Germany and Russia, it is necessary to be married by the state before having a religious ceremony. Some states allow civil marriages in circumstances 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 that is not recognized by the civil authorities. Examples include widows who stand to lose a pension if they remarry and so undergo a marriage in the eyes of God, homosexual couples, some sects of Mormonism 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 effective 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 a mere private ceremony.
Types of marriages
The type, functions, and characteristics of marriage vary from culture to culture, and can change over time.
In the Americas and Europe, in the 21st century, legally recognized marriages are formally presumed to be monogamous (although some pockets of society still accept polygamy socially, if not legally, and some couples choose to enter into open marriages). In these countries, divorce is relatively simple and socially accepted. In the West, the prevailing view toward marriage today is that it is based on a legal covenant recognising emotional attachment between the partners and entered into voluntarily.
In the West, marriage has evolved from a life-time covenant that can only be broken by fault or death to a contract that can be broken by either party at will. Other shifts in Western marriage since World War I include:
- Unlike the 19th century, women, not men, get child custody over 80% of the time,
- both spouses have a formal duty of spousal support (no longer just the husband),
- Out of wedlock children have the same rights of support as legitimate children,
- in most countries, rape within marriage is considered illegal and can be punished,
- husbands may no longer physically discipline or abuse their wife, and
- in some jurisdictions, property acquired since marriage is not owned by the title-holder. This property is considered marital and to be divided among the spouses by community property law or equitable distribution via the courts.
Some societies permit polygamy, in which a man could have multiple wives; even in such societies however, most men have only one. In such societies, having multiple wives is generally considered a sign of wealth and power. The status of multiple wives has varied from one society to another.
In the Muslim world, marriage is sanctioned between a man and a woman, but there are verses in chapter 4 of the Qur'an which state that in certain conditions a man is allowed up to four wives. In Muslim societies, the different wives are considered equal and must be treated as such. In Indonesia, the largest Muslim majority state, marriage is allowed between a man and a woman who profess the same faith, while atheists are not allowed to marry.
In Imperial China, formal marriage was sanctioned only between a man and a woman, although among the upper classes, the primary wife was an arranged marriage with an elaborate formal ceremony while concubines could be taken on later with minimal ceremony. After the rise of Communism, only strictly monogamous marital relationships are permitted, although divorce is a relatively simple process.
Polygamy, monogamy, and polyandry
Polyandry (a woman having multiple husbands) occurs very rarely in a few isolated tribal societies with limited resources. These societies include some bands of the Canadian Inuit, although the practice has declined sharply in the 20th century due to the change from tribal religion to the Moravian religion.
Today, many married people practice various forms of consensual nonmonogamy, including polyamory and swinging. These people have agreements with their spouses that permit other intimate relationships or sexual partners. Therefore, the concept of marriage need not necessarily hinge on sexual or emotional monogamy.
Christian insistence on monogamy
In the Christian tradition, a "one man one woman" model for the Christian marriage was advocated by Saint Augustine (354-439 AD) with his published letter The Good of Marriage. To discourage polygamy, he wrote it "was lawful among the ancient fathers: whether it be lawful now also, I would not hastily pronounce. For there is not now necessity of begetting children, as there then was, when, even when wives bear children, it was allowed, in order to a more numerous posterity, to marry other wives in addition, which now is certainly not lawful." (chapter 15, paragraph 17) Sermons from St. Augustine's letters were popular and influential. In 534 AD Roman Emperor Justinian criminalized all but monogamous man/woman sex within the confines of marriage. The Justinian Code was the basis of European law for 1,000 years.
Christianity has continued to insist on monogamy as an essential of marriage.
Contemporary Western societies
However, divorce and remarriage are relatively easy to undertake in these societies. This has led to a practice called serial monogamy. "Serial monogamy" involves entering into successive marriages over time. It often occurs when a husband, usually of average to high socioeconomic status, divorces an older wife and takes on a younger wife. The younger wife is disparagingly referred to as the "trophy wife" by many who frown upon the practice. In some ways, serial monogamy can be similar to the marital practices observed in polygamous societies, where a husband may add a younger wife to his family years after his first marriage commences.
Within the LGBT community, the expression "serial monogamy" refers to the practice of having one long-term relationship and then moving on to another. This practice is one of a few options for bisexuals, and is practiced by many gays and lesbians as well. (The same practice is common with unmarried heterosexuals who do not wish, or feel ready, to "settle down", but the expression "serial monogamy" is not usuually used to refer to this situation.)
Some traditional cultures still practice marriage by abduction, a form of forced marriage in which a woman who is kidnapped and raped by a man is regarded as his wife. This practice is limited to a few traditional cultures in a small number of countries, and is generally regarded as abhorrent by other cultures.
Some parts of India follow a custom in which the groom is required to marry with an auspicious plant called Tulsi before a second marriage to overcome inauspicious predictions about the health of the husband. However, the relationship is not consummated and does not affect their ability to remarry later. One should note that this is not a norm found across the entire Indian sub-continent.
In Mormonism, a couple may seal their marriage "for time and for all eternity" through a "sealing" ceremony conducted within the LDS temple. The couple is then believed to be bound to each other in marriage throughout eternity if they live according to their covenants made in the ceremony. Mormonism also allows living persons to act as proxies in the sealing ceremony to "seal" a marriage between ancestors who have been dead for at least one year and who were married during their lifetime. According to LDS theology, it is then up to the deceased individuals to accept or reject this sealing in the spirit world before their eventual resurrection. A living person can also be sealed to his or her deceased spouse, with another person (of the same sex as the deceased) acting as proxy for that deceased individual.
Other unusual variations include marriage between a living human and a ghost (Taiwan), a living human and a recently-deceased human with whom they were emotionally involved (France), and between a human being and God (Catholic and Orthodox monasticism). Again, these lack the social meaning of ordinary marriage and belong rather to the realm of religion or (in the case of weddings of dogs to other dogs, Kermit the Frog to Miss Piggy, and the like) pure spectacle.
Societies have always placed restrictions on marriage to relatives, though the degree of prohibited relationship varies widely. In almost all societies, marriage between brothers and sisters is forbidden, with Ancient Egyptian, Hawaiian, and Inca royalty being the rare exception. 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 many societies, various rights are allotted only to married individuals .
In Indian Hindu community, especially in the Brahmin caste, marrying a person of the same Gothra is prohibited, since persons belonging to the same Gothra are said to have identical patrilineal descension. In ancient India when Gurukul was in existence, the shishyas (the pupils) were advised against marrying any of Guru's children as shishyas were considered Guru's children and it would be considered marriage among siblings (though there were exceptions like Arjuna's son Abhimanyu marrying Uttra, the dance student of Arjuna in Mahabharatha).
Many societies have also adopted other restrictions on whom one can marry, such as prohibitions on marrying persons with the same surname, or persons with the same sacred animal. One example is South Korea. Even today, it is generally considered taboo for a man to marry a woman if they both have the same last name. A large percentage of the total South Korean population have the surname "Kim" (an estimated 20%; rendering 20% of the Korean population ineligible for marriage).
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 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 southern United States and Utah prior to 1967, which prohibited marriage between persons of different races (miscegenation) could also be considered examples of endogamy.
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. Certain countries, like Belgium and the Netherlands even legally demand that the civil marriage has to take place before any religious marriage. In some countries, notably the United States, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland 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 that civil element of the full ceremony is left out for any reason, in the eyes of the law no marriage took place, irrespective of the holding of the religious ceremony.
Whilst 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 (ie. a church or registry office), and be open to the public. An exception can be made in the case of marriage by special emergency licence, 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 lax rules on marriage, many famous people, including Michael Jackson, have opted to marry in Australia, so as to have a private 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; the presence of a priest or other witnesses was not required if circumstances prevented it. This promise was known as the "verbum". 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.
Many societies provide for the termination of marriage through divorce. Marriages can also be annulled or cancelled, which is a legal proceeding that establishes that a marriage was invalid from its beginning.
Rights and obligations relating to marriage
Typically, marriage 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 behavior, 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).
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.
In most of the world's major religions, marriage is traditionally a prerequisite for sexual intercourse: unmarried people are not supposed to have sex, which is then called fornication and is socially discouraged or even criminalized. In practice, most societies have tacitly accepted sex between unmarried people if they marry as soon as pregnancy occurs (see shotgun wedding). Sex with a married person other than one's spouse, called adultery, is even less acceptable and has also often been criminalized, especially in the case of a person who is a representative of the government (e.g. president, prime minister, political representative, public-school teacher, military officer).
Marriage and religion
- Main article: 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 Roman Catholic Church "Holy Matrimony" is considered to be one of the seven sacraments, in this case one that the spouses bestow upon each other in front of a priest and members of the community as witnesses during a "Nuptial Mass". 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 and the Church. In Judaism, marriage is viewed as a coming together of two families, therefore prolonging the religion and cultural heritage of the Jewish people. Islam also recommends marriage highly; among other things, it helps in the pursuit of spiritual perfection. 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. By contrast, Buddhism does not encourage or discourage marriage, although it does teach how one might live a happily married life.
Protestants believe that marriage is a lifetime commitment and should not be entered into lightly. God created the institution of marriage when He gave the first woman to the first man. Marriage can only be the union of one man and one woman. The Bible states in Genesis 2:24 (ESV), “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Marriage is to be a union of mutual love and support. Though the wife is commanded to submit to her husband, she is not a door mat. The husband is commanded to love his wife even to the point of giving up his life for her. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 5:22-31 (ESV), “ Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
It's also worth noting that different religions have different beliefs as regards the breakup of marriage. For example, the Roman Catholic Church does not permit divorce, because in its eyes, a marriage is forged by God. The Church states that what God joins together, humans cannot sunder. As a result, people who get a civil divorce are still considered married in the eyes of the Catholic Church, which does not allow them to remarry, even if they are allowed a civil marriage.However,this has been under scrutiny for some time as the church previously allowed divorces, a policy it changed in the 16th century to 'restore honor to marriage'. 98% of all Catholics in recent polls showed a belief that the church should allow all remarriage following a divorce.Currently Catholics can be permitted an annulment. With a nullity, religions and the state often apply different rules, meaning that a couple, for example, could receive a divorce from the state and not have their marriage annulled by the Catholic Church because the state disagrees with the church over whether an annulment could be granted in a particular case. This produces a situation 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.
Islam does allow divorce; however, there is a verse stated in the Qur'an describing divorce as the least desirable act allowed between people. The general rule is for a man to allow his wife to stay until the end of her menstrual period or for 3 months if she so wishes after the divorce. During this period they would be divorced in that they would simply be living under the same roof but not functioning as man and wife. The Qur'an scholars suggest that the main point is to prevent any decisions by the woman from being affected by hormonal fluctuations as well as to allow any heated arguments or differences to be resolved in a civil manner before the marriage is completely terminated. However, there is no obligation on the woman to stay, if she so wishes she may leave. The man is also obligated to give his wife a gift or monetary sum equivalent to at least half her mahr (gift or monetary sum which is given to the wife at the commencement of the marriage). Specific conditions as to how a divorce is conducted also apply if a woman is pregnant, or has given birth just prior to the divorce.
refer Qur'an 2:228-232, 236, 237, 241 and 65:1-7. See also 4:35.
Marriages are typically entered into with a vow that explicitly limits the duration of the marriage with the statement "till death do you part". However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have a distinctive view of marriage called Celestial marriage, wherein they believe that individuals that are worthy can enter into a marriage relationship that can endure beyond death. This is documented in their Proclamation On The Family.
Marriage and economics
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 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 or not to participate in the marriage.
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 for the other half inheritance rules apply.
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 Necessaties" 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 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.
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.
Romantic marriage and pragmatic marriage
A Pragmatic (or 'Arranged') marriage that is facilitated by formal procedures of family or group politics. A responsible authority sets up or encourages the marriage. The authority could be parents, family, a religious figure or a consensus. The former two often start the process with informal pressure, social pressure, whilst the latter two often start the process with a formal system or statement. In both cases, the authority has a compelling veto over the marriage, and this system is socially supported by the rest of community so that to deny it is extreme and drastic. Once declared, an engagement is implicit, which follows through with a formal marriage ceremony.
Pragmatic marriage contrasted to romantic marriage
Cultures that aspire to create relationships after couples marry are those with institutionalized practices of pragmatic marriage. Cultures that come to think that marriages should only be tried once a short-term compatibility already exists adopt romantic marriages.
Those who believe in romantic marriage will often criticize pragmatic marriage, considering it is oppressive, inhuman, or immoral. Defenders of pragmatic marriage disagree, often pointing to cultures where the success rate of pragmatic marriages is seen to be high, and holding that nearly all couples learn to love and care for each other very deeply.
Those who uphold pragmatic marriage frequently state that it is traditional, that it upholds social morals, that it is good for the families involved. They also have some traditional criticisms of romantic marriage, saying that it is short-term, overly based on sexual lust, or immoral. Defenders of romantic marriage would hold that it is preferable to achieve an emotional bond before entering into a lifelong commitment.
It is debatable whether either understanding of marriage is more correct - the underlying assumptions are different. Much criticism of the "other" form of marriage (from one point of view or the other) is based on misunderstanding assumptions about the nature of marriage made from different cultural starting-points.
- Main article: Same-sex marriage
Same-sex unions have been recorded in the history of a number of cultures, but marriages or socially-accepted unions between same-sex partners were rare or nonexistent in other cultures. Same-sex marriage remains infrequent worldwide, especially as it is not offered in most countries. As tolerance of homosexuality has become more widespread in Western cultures, some governments have the possibility that same-sex couples, as well as opposite-sex couples, may engage in marriage.
Jurisdictions accepting same-sex marriage
However, some countries recognize same-sex marriage, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, and Spain; in the United States same-sex marriage is legal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "Registered Partnership," "Civil Union," or "Domestic Partnership" is operative in Denmark (including Greenland but excluding the Faeroe Islands), Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Germany, France, Portugal, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the American states of Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, and California. The State of Hawaii has "reciprocal beneficiaries relationship," which is a limited interpersonal status for same-sex couples. Vermont also has "reciprocal beneficiaries relationship," but this is a very different interpersonal status from the Hawaiian form. The District of Columbia also has a form of domestic partnership for same-sex couples. Legal challenges to marriage restrictions may soon expand the recognition of same-sex marriages to Washington, New York, and other states.
These developments have created a political backlash, most notably in Great Britain, where the Church of England has officially banned gay marriage, and in the United States, where several states have specifically outlawed gay marriage, often by popular referenda.
Some opinion polls indicate almost an equal split between support and opposition to legal recognition of homosexual partnerships for the purpose of granting rights and immunities equivalent to those of heterosexual marriages. The same polls indicate wide majorities, as much as two-thirds, disapproving of a change to the legal definition of marriage to include homosexual unions.
At the United States federal level, the Defense of Marriage Act has created a federal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, as well as allowing one state not to recognize a same sex marriage recognized by another state. Arguments have been made that the DOMA conflicts with the United States Constitution, and could conceivably be overturned on this basis. To ensure this does not happen, some, including President George W. Bush, support amending the Federal Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages.
Criticisms of the institution of marriage
Some commentators have been critical of marriage, sometimes condemning individual local practices and sometimes even the entire institution. A good many of the criticisms are developed from a feminist viewpoint that claims marriage can be particularly disadvantageous to women. However, there are other viewpoints from which marriage in its usual forms is problematic.
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 bride price, sometimes to a man twice her age who was a stranger to her. Her older husband then became her guardian and she could be cut off almost completely from her family. The woman had little or no say in the marriage negotiations, which might even have occurred without her knowledge.
Some traditions allowed a woman who failed to bear a son to be given back to her father. This reflected the importance of bearing children and extending the family to succeeding generations.
Often both parties are expected to be virgins before their marriage, but in many cultures women were more strictly held to this standard. One old tradition in Europe, which survived into the twentieth century in rural Greece, was for this to be proven by hanging the bloody bed sheet from the wedding night from the side of the house. Similarly, sexual fidelity is very often expected in marriage, but sometimes the expectations and penalties for women have been harsher than those for men.
- 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 has been more difficult to obtain.
The remnants of older, arguably antiquated, ideas can be found in today's ceremonies and traditional practices. For example, women may still be 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.
One very common tradition is that of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold of their house. Investigating the origin of this tradition around 100 AD, Plutarch postulated three different possibilities. The first was that the act of picking up the bride was a symbolic re-enactment of the Rape of the Sabines. Another was that it symbolized the bride's reluctance to surrender her virginity, which she did only under duress. And the last suggested marital faithfulness - having been carried into the house by her husband she would only leave it the same way. This of course was in the context of a patriarchal culture in which it was said that a woman should only leave her house when she was so old that people would not ask whose wife she was, but whose mother. It has also been said to originate from a Roman belief that it was bad luck for a bride to stumble while entering her new home.
These traditions, though often attacked by critics and scholars, nevertheless remain a treasured part of many ceremonies, cherished by both bride and groom.
Some commentators argue that marriage and divorce now operate in Western societies in a way that is unfair to men.  The divorce rate is very high, now half that of the marriage rate,  but only 15 per cent of men are awarded custody. This is unchanged since 1994 (cf. p. 1), and  annual support payments increasing 18% to $40 billion paid by 7.8 million separated parents, 6.6 million are fathers with  cash incentives of up to $4.1 billion available to states that create support and arrearage orders, and then collect (cf. 6B, 6C, & 6D), it may help to explain the conclusion of a  recent marriage report by Rutgers University. "Continuing decline of the marriage rate accompanied by an increase in the number of cohabiting couples; a small increase in the percentage of children living in fragile families and born out of wedlock; and a sharp increase among teenage boys in their acceptance of unwed childbearing and a slight decrease in agreement among teenagers, especially girls, that "living together before getting married is a good idea." says 2004 Social Health of Marriage in America. Marriage strike behavior although not explicit.
Further, during a litigated divorce allegations of domestic violence, child custody, paternity, alimony, child support, fathers' rights create additional concerns, especially with divorce attorneys rates up to $300.00 per hour.
 85% of orders of protections are awarded to females, 7% of petitions denied. Since the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act of 1995,  more than $1 billion spent to police and prosecutors. Since 1995, when a wife feels fearful, it is domestic violence. Divorce attorneys practice leveraging this assault charge into an order of protection to get a spouse, usually the man, out of the home, physically separating him from children and his property.
Some libertarians criticize the government regulation of and the state's involvement in marriage, because many now consider marriage a religious institution. State involvement is criticised as a breach of the principle of church-state separation. On this view, government must not recognize marriage at all. Instead, marriage-like partnerships should be treated as a contracts like any others between freely consenting parties. This would essentially reduce family law to a subset of contract law. Any religious aspects of marriage should remain the province of one's church and that church's ecclesiastical courts (if it has them).
Relatively new legal developments like palimony have already tilted certain governments slightly in this direction.
- Adultery - consensual sexual intercourse by a married person with someone other than their lawful spouse.
- Alimony - obligation of support.
- Annulment - legal procedure for declaring a marriage null and void.
- Arranged marriage - marital partners are chosen by others.
- Betrothal - formal state of engagement to be married.
- Bond - a connection.
- Chinese marriage - arrangement between families.
- Common-law marriage - class of interpersonal status.
- Consummate - bring marriage to its completion, usually by making love.
- 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.
- Divorce - ending of a marriage.
- Engagement and engagement ring
- Fathers' rights
- Fleet Marriage
- Gender-neutral marriage
- Group marriage
- History of Civil Marriage in the U.S.
- Jewish view of marriage
- Levirate marriage
- Legal aspects of transsexualism
- Legal consequences of marriage in the United Kingdom
- List of people with multiple marriages
- Separation - ending of a marriage.
- Marriage (conflict)
- Marriage by correspondence
- Marriage in the United Kingdom
- Marriage of convenience
- Marriage strike - Increasing ambivalence toward marriage in American men.
- Marriageable age
- Mail-order bride
- Misyar marriage
- Morganatic marriage
- Mut'a marriage
- Open marriage
- Proxy Marriage
- Same-sex marriage
- Sororate marriage
- Temporary marriage
- 'Urfi marriage
- US rights and responsibilities of marriage
- Wedding band (or ring)
- White wedding
- Wife Swap, a reality TV series
- The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University
- Marriage at About.com
- Wedding Encyclopedia at AppleBride
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