AskDefine | Define marriage

Dictionary Definition



1 the state of being a married couple voluntarily joined for life (or until divorce); "a long and happy marriage"; "God bless this union" [syn: matrimony, union, spousal relationship, wedlock]
2 two people who are married to each other; "his second marriage was happier than the first"; "a married couple without love" [syn: married couple, man and wife]
3 the act of marrying; the nuptial ceremony; "their marriage was conducted in the chapel" [syn: wedding, marriage ceremony]
4 a close and intimate union; "the marriage of music and dance"; "a marriage of ideas"

User Contributed Dictionary



mariage, from mariage, from marier “to marry”, from maritare “to marry”, literally “give a husband to”, from maritus “married man, husband”, derived probably from Proto-Indo-European *mari-, perhaps a feminine stem of *mer-yo- “young man or young woman” (hence *mari-to- “given a wife”), if not somehow connected with mas “male” (stem mar-).


Extensive Definition

Marriage is a personal union between people. This union may also be called matrimony, while the ceremony that marks its beginning is called a wedding and the status created is sometimes called wedlock.
If recognized by the state, by the religion to which the parties belong and/or by society in general, the act of marriage may change the personal status of the individuals in the eyes of those authorities. The status in the eyes of one authority may not be the same as for another. For example, a marriage may be recognised by the state, but not by a church, and vice versa.
Marriage is an institution in which interpersonal relationships (usually intimate and sexual) are sanctioned with governmental, social, or religious recognition. It is often created by a contract or through civil processes. Civil marriage is the legal concept of marriage as a governmental institution, in accordance with marriage laws of the land.
Marriage may take many forms: for example, a union between one man and one woman as husband and wife is a monogamous heterosexual marriage; polygamy — in which a person takes more than one spouse — is common in many societies; and, in some jurisdictions and denominations, a same-sex marriage unites people of the same sex.
People marry for many reasons, but usually 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; or to obtain citizenship.
A marriage is often declared by a wedding ceremony, which may be performed either by a religious officiant, by a secular government-sanctioned 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.

Finding a partner

In order to get married, it is necessary to find a suitable partner. A partner may be found by the person wishing to be married through the process of courtship. Alternatively, two marriage candidates may be matched by a third party, typically with the match finalized only if both candidates approve of 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 enforce an arranged marriage because of cultural tradition 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.

Arranged marriage

Although the institution of marriage pre-dates reliable recorded history, many cultures have legends or religious beliefs concerning the origins of marriage.
No specific civil ceremony was required for the creation of a marriage among the Greeks and Romans; only mutual agreement and the fact that the couple must regard each other as husband and wife accordingly. In Ancient Greece, men usually married when they were in their 30's. They expected their wives to be in their early teens. This age-structured relationship was also prevalent in same-sex relationships among the Ancient Greeks. Married Greek women had few rights in ancient Greek society and were expected to take care of the house and children. There was not as much emphasis on age disparity among the Romans in marriage. The husband was often older than the bride; he might be only two years older but sometimes could be as much as three times her age. Unlike Greek brides, Roman brides had many more rights, especially during the Roman Empire. There were two types of marriages in Roman society. The traditional form was called conventio in manum. In this type of marriage, a woman lost her family rights of inheritance of her old family and gained them with her new one. She now was subject to the authority of her husband. Alternatively there was the free marriage known as sine manu . In this arrangement the wife remained a member of her original family. She stayed under the authority of her father and kept her family rights of inheritance with her old family, though didn't gain any with the new family. This marriage could simply be annulled by the separation of the couple.
The first recorded use of the word "marriage" for same-sex couples also occurs during the Roman Empire. A number of marriages are recorded to have taken place during this period. In the year 342, the Christian emperors Constantius and Constans declared that same-sex marriage to be illegal. In the year 390, the Christian emperors Valentinian II, Theodoisus and Arcadius declared homosexual sex to be illegal and those who were guilty of it were condemned to be burned alive in front of the public.
In Catholicism, the Council of Trent made the validity of marriage dependent upon its being performed before an ordained member of the clergy 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." Marriage has changed throughout the history of Europe, in the 1200s in England it was unlawful for a woman younger than 24 years to marry, but this changed, beginning in the 1500s, to 20 years of age.
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.
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 stems from Christianity, which has defined the modern religious concept of marriage in Europe since the Middle Ages. However, Roman Law permitted same-sex marriages, prostitution, concubinage, and sexual access to slaves. The Christian West formally banned these practices with laws against same-sex marriage, adultery, fornication, and other relationships outside a monogamous, lifelong covenant.


The parties to a marriage usually seek social recognition for their relationship, and many societies require official approval of a religious or civil body.
If recognized by the State, by the religion to which the parties belong and/or by society in general, the act of marriage may change the personal status of the individuals in the eyes of those authorities.
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."
In England and Wales, Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act 1753 required a formal ceremony of marriage, thereby curtailing the practice of Fleet Marriage.
In many jurisdictions, a civil marriage ceremony may take place as part of 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 also acts 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 relationships 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 subject to the rights and obligations of a legal 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

A marriage, by definition, creates rights and obligations on the married parties, and sometimes on relatives as well. These may include:
  • giving a husband/wife or his/her family control over a spouse’s sexual services, labor, and/or property.
  • giving a husband/wife responsibility for a spouse’s debts.
  • giving a husband/wife visitation rights when his/her spouse is incarcerated or hospitalized.
  • giving a husband/wife control over his/her spouse’s affairs when the spouse is incapacitated.
  • establishing the second legal guardian of a parent’s child.
  • establishing a joint fund of property for the benefit of children.
  • establishing a relationship between the families of the spouses.
These rights and obligations vary considerably between societies, and between groups within society..


seealso Cohabitation
Marriage is an institution which can join together people's lives in a variety of emotional and economic ways.
In many Western cultures, marriage usually leads to the formation of a new household comprising the married couple, with the married couple living together in the same home, often sharing the same bed, but in some other cultures this is not the tradition.
Among the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, residency after marriage is matrilocal, with the husband moving into the household of his wife's mother. Residency after marriage can also be patrilocal or avunculocal.
Also, in southwestern China, walking marriages, in which the husband and wife do not live together, have been a traditional part of the Mosuo culture. 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." A similar arrangement in Saudi Arabia, called misyar marriage, also involves the husband and wife living separately but meeting regularly.

Sex and procreation

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.
However, marriage is not a prerequisite for having children, and having children outside of marriage is not uncommon and increasingly socially accepted. In the United States, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that in 1992, 30.1 percent of births were to unmarried women. In 2006, that number had risen to 38.5 percent. Until recently, children born outside of marriage were termed illegitimate and suffered legal disadvantages and social stigma. In recent years the legal relevance of illegitimacy has declined and social acceptance increased, especially in western countries.
There are some married couples who remain childless either by choice or due to infertility or other factors preventing conception or bearing of children. In some cultures, marriage imposes an obligation on women to bear children. In northern Ghana, for example, payment of bridewealth signifies a woman's requirement to bear children, and women using birth control face substantial threats of physical abuse and reprisals.
Most of the world's major religions look with disfavor on sexual relations prior to marriage. Some teach that sexual relations without marriage is fornication. Fornication is sometimes socially discouraged or even criminal. Sex with a married person other than one's spouse is called adultery, and is universally condemned by all major world religions, and has often been and in some jurisdictions continues to be a crime.


seealso Forms of nonmonogamy Polygamous marriage, in which a person is married to more than one spouse at one time, is accepted by many societies, though it is far less common than monogamy. Africa has the highest rate of polygamy in the world. In Senegal, for example, nearly 47 percent of marriages are multiple. Polygyny is the typical form of polygamy, while polyandry is rare. Polygamy is normally not permitted in most western countries (see bigamy), though some recognise bona fides polygamous marriages entered into in countries that routinely perform such marriages, such as in a Muslim country.
Anthropologists distinguish between polygamy and group marriage, in which multiple spouses all become married to one another. Group marriage is rare. In the United States, the historic Oneida Colony provides a prominent 19th-century example of a group marriage, though it was not recognised by any civil or religious authority.

Same-sex marriage

Some jurisdictions and/or religious denominations recognize marriages between people of the same sex, some may instead provide civil unions or domestic partnerships, while some explicitly prohibit same-sex marriages. Since 2001, five countries have recognised same-sex marriages for civil purposes, namely the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa. To avoid the use of the term "marriage", some countries provide civil unions, which are open to couples of the same sex, to confer a portion or all of the benefits of married status. Civil unions are recognized and accepted in approximately 30 countries.
Some countries, such as Israel, Aruba, and the Netherlands Antilles, recognize same-sex marriages lawfully entered into in other countries.
In the United States, Massachusetts is the only state to recognize same-sex marriage under the name marriage. (In Iowa, a district court that struck down the state's Defense of Marriage Act issued a stay on the ruling the next day, only one same sex couple has been married under Iowa law ) The California state supreme court's decision to overturn a gay marriage ban in May 2008 is expected to make California the second state to permit gay marriage when the ruling takes effect in June. Civil unions are a separate form of legal union open to couples of the same sex, and in some jurisdictions also to those of opposite sexes who do not want to marry, often carrying the same entailments as 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, 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'. . 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.
Some religious denominations ceremonially perform civil unions, and recognize them as essentially equivalent to marriage.
These developments have created a political and religious reaction in some countries, including in England, where the Church of England, after long debate, officially banned blessings of gay couples by Church of England clergy, and in the United States, where several states have specifically defined marriage as between a man and a woman, often after popular referendums, including the state of Mississippi which passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages from other states with 86% of the vote supporting that proposition. Conversely, two states, 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.

Marriage restrictions

seealso Marriage Laws

Marriageable age

The minimum age at which a person is able to lawfully marry, and if parental or other consents are required, vary from country to country.
As early as 1798, Thomas Malthus proposed delaying the age of marriage to alleviate overpopulation.

Gender restrictions

Some government, social, or religious restrictions exist in some countries on the payment of dowry and on the gender of the couple (see same-sex unions).

Kinship restrictions

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.

Social restrictions

In 2004, the American Anthropological Association released this statement: 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, People's Republic of 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. 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), 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%). 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 six Western countries, and three states in the United States (though only one of these states currently licenses and performs same-sex marriages).
Today, the term marriage is generally reserved for a union that is formally recognized by the government (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 legal recognition of a marriage: common law marriage and obtaining a marriage license. The majority of US states do not recognize common law marriage. Other localities may support various types of domestic partnerships.
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 consenting adult heterosexual couple (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.


A marriage may be celebrated with a wedding ceremony, 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, demand that the civil marriage take place before any religious marriage. In some countries — notably the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Norway and Spain — both ceremonies can be held together; the officiant at the religious and 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.
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

Many religions have broad teachings regarding marriage. Most religions have some sort of wedding ceremony recognizing of the beginning of a marriage. Some regard marriage as simply a contract, some regard it as a sacred institution.
Most Christian churches bless the couple being married; the wedding ceremony sometimes involves a pledge by the community to support the couple's relationship. Liturgical Christian communions—notably Anglicanism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy—consider marriage (sometimes termed holy matrimony) to be an expression of divine grace, termed a sacrament or mystery. In Western ritual, the minstiers of the sacrament are the husband and wife themselves, with a bishop, priest, or deacon merely witnessing the union on behalf of the church, and adding a blessing. In Eastern ritual churches, the bishop or priest functions as the actual minister of the Sacred Mystery (Eastern Orthodox deacons may not perform marriages). Western Christians commonly refer to marriage a vocation, while Eastern Christians consider it an ordination and a martyrdom, though the theological emphases indicated by the various names are not excluded by the teachings of either tradition. Marriage is commonly celebrated in the context of a Eucharistic service (a nuptial Mass or Divine Liturgy). The sacrament of marriage is indicative of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Bible verse |Ephesians|5:29-32|KJV), yet most Reformed Christians would deny the elevation of marriage to the status of a sacrament. Nevertheless it is considered a covenant between spouses before God.
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. Though procreation is not the sole purpose, a Jewish marriage is also expected to fulfill the commandment to have children. 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. See Jewish views of marriage.
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.
According to Shia Islam marriage doesn't need any witness or official statement or presence in a definite place and its sufficient that man and woman intend to marry with each other and say specific words to each other which led to a religious contract between them and a couple can live with each other as a family without official contract. Of course there are some criteria which should be observed for example woman should be single.
Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, recommended that people marry as an assistance to themselves in their well-being, but did not make it obligatory; he explained that it is both a physical and spiritual bond that endures into the afterlife. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the religion, stated that marriage is a foundation for the structure of human society.

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. 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).


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 to each individual in a two-earner households in progressive tax systems. This is most often the case with high-income taxpayers and is another situation where some consider there to be a marriage penalty.
Conversely, when progressive tax is levied on the individual with no consideration for the partnership, dual-income couples fare much better than single-income couples with similar household incomes. The effect can be increased when the welfare system treats the same income as a shared income thereby denying welfare access to the non-earning spouse. Such systems apply in Australia and Canada, for example.


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.

Contemporary views on marriage


Criticisms of marriage appear as ancient as the institution itself. For example, Plato's Republic's recommendation of group marriage, is a famous early critique. Commentators have often been critical of individual local practices and traditions, often leading to changes. Examples include 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. Conversely, father's rights advocates claim that there is a continuing societal bias towards women as custodial parents in the face of "no-fault" divorce laws is unjust to men when marriages fail. Some groups, such as the Independent Women's Forum, acknowledge these critiques as valid, but emphasize that they should not be leveled against marriage itself, but dealt with independently.

Controversial views

Some views about marriage are controversial. Advocates of same-sex rights movements criticize the widespread exclusion of homosexual relationships from the legal and social sanction it provides. At the same time advocates of the traditional marriage movement oppose any attempt to define marriage to include anything other than the union of one man and one woman, claiming that to do so would "deprive the term of its fundamental and defining meaning."

See also


Lists and statistics

Related concepts


Further reading

marriage in Arabic: زواج
marriage in Aymara: Jaqichasiña
marriage in Bosnian: Brak
marriage in Breton: Priedelezh
marriage in Bulgarian: Брак
marriage in Catalan: Matrimoni
marriage in Czech: Manželství
marriage in Danish: Ægteskab
marriage in German: Ehe
marriage in Estonian: Abiellumine
marriage in Modern Greek (1453-): Γάμος
marriage in Spanish: Matrimonio
marriage in Esperanto: Nupto
marriage in Persian: ازدواج
marriage in French: Mariage
marriage in Scottish Gaelic: Banais
marriage in Classical Chinese: 夫妻
marriage in Korean: 혼인
marriage in Croatian: Brak
marriage in Indonesian: Pernikahan
marriage in Icelandic: Hjónaband
marriage in Italian: Matrimonio
marriage in Hebrew: נישואים
marriage in Georgian: ქორწინება
marriage in Latin: Matrimonium
marriage in Latvian: Laulība
marriage in Lithuanian: Santuoka
marriage in Hungarian: Házasság
marriage in Macedonian: Брак
marriage in Malayalam: വിവാഹം
marriage in Mazanderani: Hemraver
marriage in Dutch: Huwelijk
marriage in Japanese: 結婚
marriage in Norwegian: Ekteskap
marriage in Norwegian Nynorsk: Ekteskap
marriage in Narom: Neuche
marriage in Occitan (post 1500): Matrimòni
marriage in Polish: Małżeństwo
marriage in Portuguese: Casamento
marriage in Quechua: Kasarakuy
marriage in Russian: Брачный союз
marriage in Albanian: Martesa
marriage in Simple English: Marriage
marriage in Slovenian: Poroka
marriage in Serbian: Брак
marriage in Finnish: Avioliitto
marriage in Swedish: Äktenskap
marriage in Tagalog: Kasal (institusyon)
marriage in Tatar: Öylänü
marriage in Telugu: పెళ్ళి
marriage in Thai: การสมรส
marriage in Vietnamese: Hôn nhân
marriage in Turkish: Evlilik
marriage in Ukrainian: Шлюб
marriage in Walloon: Mariaedje
marriage in Yiddish: אישית
marriage in Chinese: 婚姻

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Anschluss, Gretna Green wedding, addition, affiliation, agglomeration, agglutination, aggregation, agreement, alliance, amalgamation, articulation, assimilation, association, banns, blend, blending, bond, bracketing, bridal, bridal suite, bridechamber, cabal, carnality, cartel, centralization, chuppah, church wedding, civil ceremony, civil wedding, clustering, coalescence, coalition, coldness, combination, combine, combo, communication, composition, concatenation, concourse, concurrence, confederacy, confederation, confluence, congeries, conglomeration, conjugation, conjunction, connection, consolidation, conspiracy, convergence, copulation, coupling, ecumenism, elopement, embodiment, encompassment, enosis, epithalamium, espousals, espousement, federalization, federation, flesh, fleshliness, forced marriage, frigidity, fusion, gathering, honeymoon, hookup, hymen, hymeneal, hymeneal rites, impotence, inclusion, incorporation, integration, intercommunication, intercourse, interlinking, joinder, joining, jointure, junction, junta, knotting, league, liaison, libido, linkage, linking, love, lovemaking, match, matrimony, meeting, meld, melding, merger, merging, nuptial apartment, nuptial mass, nuptial song, nuptials, package, package deal, pairing, potency, prothalamium, saffron veil, sensuality, sex drive, sexiness, sexual instinct, sexual urge, sexualism, sexuality, shotgun wedding, solidification, splice, spousal, spousals, symbiosis, syncretism, syndication, syneresis, synthesis, tie, tie-in, tie-up, unification, union, voluptuousness, wedding, wedding canopy, wedding song, wedding veil, wedlock, yoking
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