Marriage is the relationship between two people that has been formed as the basis of a family union, in most societies. Marriage can be legal, social or religious.
In Western societies, marriage is viewed as a social contract between a man and a woman (or, rather, husband and wife). Elsewhere in the world, polygamy is the most common form of marriage, typically in the form of a man taking many wives (polygyny) and occasionally as a woman taking several husbands (polyandry). In some instances, same-sex marriages or civil partnerships are recognized.
What is marriage?
The definition of marriage varies by history and by culture, but the modern understanding centers on the legitimacy of sexual relations. Universally, the concept of in laws remains common. One is encouraged to marry far enough out to strengthen ties in the community but still close enough that the in-laws can be considered part of the family. In royalty, however, the focus is strengthening the concentration of wealth. Today, the word marriage is typically reserved for a state-sanctioned union.
Forms of marriage
Marriage varies from culture to culture.
- Western societies. In North America and Europe, legally sanctioned marriages are a monogamous relationship. Some pockets of society still sanction polygamy socially. Divorce is simple to achieve. In the West today, marriage is viewed as a legal covenant recognizing attachment between partners who entered the union voluntarily.
- Eastern societies. Some Eastern cultures permit polygamy but even in these societies most men only have one wife. (Multiple wives signify wealth and power.) In the Muslim world, marriage is sanctioned between a man and woman, but there can be up to four wives, which are considered equal. In Indonesia, marriage is permitted between and a man and a woman of the same faith; atheists may not marry. In Imperial China, formal marriage is sanctioned only between a man and a woman; in the upper classes the primary wife was arranged and concubines could later be taken. However, only the children of the first union are legitimate. Divorce is a simple process.
Types of marriage
- Polyandry occurs in some isolated tribal societies (like the Canadian Inuit) where resources are limited.
- Group marriage is extremely rare but has existed in societies that emphasize utopian living, like the Oneida Community.
- Serial monogamy refers to a practice in Western societies where infidelity is frowned upon but divorce and remarriage is easy. In serial monogamy, a husband divorces an older wife and takes a younger wife, typically referred to as a trophy wife by those who discourage the practice.
- Marriage by abduction is a form of forced marriage. A woman is kidnapped and raped by a man, and then she becomes his wife.
- Same-sex marriage. Some countries allow couples of the same sex to wed. It is legal and recognized in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and Spain. Other countries may or may not recognize various forms of same-sex or domestic partnerships.
Divorce is the termination of marriage. Many societies allow for it. Marriages can also be cancelled, or annulled, via a legal proceeding that identifies the marriage as invalid from the beginning.