Body of legal specifications and requirements and other laws that regulate the initiation, continuation, and validity of marriages. In western Europe most marriage law derives from Roman Catholic canon law. Although the church regards marriage as a sacred, indissoluble union, modern western European and U.S. marriage law treats it as a civil transaction. Marriage law allows only monogamous unions; partners must be above a certain age and not within prohibited degrees of blood relationship; and they must be free to marry and give consent to the marriage. Divorce is now almost universally allowed. Although Islamic law regards marriage as a contract between the two spouses for the “legalization of intercourse and the procreation of children,” it is also considered a gift from God or a kind of service to God; the Islamic practice of polygamy was always limited and has waned. Polygamous marriages are permitted under customary laws in many African countries, though there has been a growing trend toward monogamy. Marriage law in present-day China and Japan resembles that in the West. Although most jurisdictions restrict marriage to a union between a man and a woman, same-sex marriages have been legalized in The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Canada. Civil unions or domestic partnerships between persons of the same sex, which entail many of the rights and obligations assumed by married couples, are recognized in numerous other jurisdictions, including several European countries and some U.S. states. Other U.S. jurisdictions, while not recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships, grant a range of legal rights to same-sex couples.
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Legally and socially sanctioned union, usually between a man and a woman, that is regulated by laws, rules, customs, beliefs, and attitudes that prescribe the rights and duties of the partners and accords status to their offspring (if any). The universality of marriage is attributed to the many basic social and personal functions it performs, such as procreation, regulation of sexual behaviour, care of children and their education and socialization, regulation of lines of descent, division of labour between the sexes, economic production and consumption, and satisfaction of personal needs for social status, affection, and companionship. Until modern times marriage was rarely a matter of free choice, and it was rarely motivated by romantic love. In most eras and most societies, permissible marriage partners have been carefully regulated. In societies in which the extended family remains the basic unit, marriages are usually arranged by the family. The assumption is that love between the partners comes after marriage, and much thought is given to the socioeconomic advantages accruing to the larger family from the match. Some form of dowry or bridewealth is almost universal in societies that use arranged marriages. The rituals and ceremonies surrounding marriage are associated primarily with religion and fertility and validate the importance of marriage for the continuation of a family, clan, tribe, or society. In recent years the definition of marriage as a union between members of opposite sexes has been challenged, and in 2000 The Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriages. Seealso bridewealth; divorce; dowry; exogamy and endogamy; polygamy.
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Marriage that is without a civil or religious ceremony and is based on the parties' agreement to consider themselves married and usually also on their cohabitation for a period of time. Most jurisdictions no longer allow this type of marriage to be formed, though they may recognize such marriages formed before a certain date or formed in a jurisdiction that permits such marriages.
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