receive marriage


Marriage is a social, religious,spiritual, or legal union of individuals. This union may also be called matrimony, while the ceremony that marks its beginning is usually called a wedding and the married status created is sometimes called wedlock.

Marriage is an institution in which interpersonal relationships (usually intimate and sexual) are acknowledged by the state or by religious authority. It is often viewed as a contract. Civil marriage is the legal concept of marriage as a governmental institution, in accordance with marriage laws of the jurisdiction. If recognized by the state, by the religion(s) to which the parties belong or by society in general, the act of marriage changes the personal and social status of the individuals who enter into it.

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.

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. Recently, some jurisdictions and denominations have begun to recognize same-sex marriage, uniting people of the same sex.

A marriage is often formalized during a marriage ceremony, which may be performed either by a religious officiant, by a secular State authorised 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 normative or legal obligations between the individuals involved and, in many societies, their extended families.

Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that "Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses." The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam gives men and women the "right to marriage" regardless of their race, colour or nationality, but not religion.

Selection of a partner

The selection of a marriage partner may involve either the couple going through a selection process of courtship or the marriage may be arranged by the couples' parents or an outside party.

Typically an arranged marriage will be finalized only with the approval of the couple, though parents sometimes enforce arranged marriages on their children because of cultural tradition or for some other special reason (e.g., dowry). Sometimes a person seeking marriage is comfortable with having his or her marriage arranged and, even disregarding parental preference, would freely choose an arranged marriage. 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.

A pragmatic (or 'arranged') marriage is made easier by formal procedures of family or group politics. A responsible authority sets up or encourages the marriage; they may, indeed, engage a professional matchmaker to find a suitable spouse for an unmarried person. The authority figure could be parents, family, a religious official, or a group consensus.

In some cases, the authority figure may choose a match for purposes other than marital harmony. Some of the most popular uses of arranged marriage are for dowry or immigration.

Arranged marriages are still common in some countries, such as India, but are now rare in Western countries. In rural Indian villages, child marriage is also practiced, with parents at times arranging the wedding, sometimes even before the child is born. This practice is now illegal under the Child Marriage Restraint Act. In urban India, people use thriving institutions known as Marriage Bureaus or Matrimonials Sites, where potential partners register.

Marriage ceremony

A marriage is usually formalised at a wedding or marriage ceremony. The ceremony may be officiated either by a religious official, by a government official or by a state approved celebrant. In many European and some Latin American countries, any religious ceremony must be held separately from the required civil ceremony. Some countries such as Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Turkey require that a civil ceremony take place before any religious one. 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 civil ceremony also serving as agent of the state to perform the civil ceremony. To avoid any implication that the state is "recognizing" a religious marriage (which is prohibited in some countries) the "civil" ceremony is said to be taking 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, the marriage is not recognised by government under the law.

While some countries, such as Australia, permit marriages to be held in private and at any location, others, including England and Wales, require that the civil ceremony be conducted in a place open to the public and specially sanctioned by law. In England, the place of marriage need no longer be a church or registry office, but could also be a hotel, historic building or other venue that has obtained the necessary licence. 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.

Despite a marriage ceremony being conducted by a religious or civil official, most religious traditions maintain that the marriage itself is the act of the individuals themselves, either as a form of contract or as an exchange of vows, with the guests acting as witnesses.

Within the parameters set by the law of the jurisdiction in which a marriage or wedding takes place, each religious authority has rules for the manner in which weddings are to be conducted by their officials and members.


The way in which a marriage is conducted has changed over time, as has the institution itself. Although the institution of marriage pre-dates reliable recorded history, many cultures have legends or religious beliefs concerning the origins of marriage.

European marriages

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 30s. 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, kept her family rights of inheritance with her old family and 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 the union of same-sex couples also occurs during the Roman Empire. The term, however, was rarely associated with same-sex relationships, even though the relationships themselves were common. 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.

From the early Christian era, marriage was thought of as primarily a private matter, with no religious or other ceremony being required. Prior to 1545, Christian marriages in Europe were by mutual consent, declaration of intention to marry and upon the subsequent physical union of the parties. The couple would promise verbally to each other that they would be married to each other; the presence of a priest or 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. One of the functions of churches from the Middle Ages was to register marriages, which was not obligatory. There was no state involvement in marriage and personal status, with these issues being adjudicated in ecclesiastical courts.

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. With the average age of marriage in the late thirteenth into the fifteenth century being around 25 years of age.

It was only after the Council of Trent in 1545, as part of the Counter-Reformation, that a Roman Catholic marriage would be recognized only if the marriage ceremony was officiated by a priest with 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.

This change did not extend to the regions affected by the Protestant Reformation, where marriage by consent continued to be the norm. 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 a state involvement in marriage.

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.

State recognition

In the early modern period, John Calvin and his Protestant colleagues reformulated Christian marriage by enacting the Marriage Ordinance of Geneva, which imposed "The dual requirements of state registration and church consecration to constitute marriage for recognition. That was the first state involvement in marriage.

In England and Wales, Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act 1753 required a formal ceremony of marriage, thereby curtailing the practice of Fleet Marriage. These were clandestine or irregular marriages performed at Fleet Prison, and at hundreds of other places. From the 1690s until the Marriage Act of 1753 as many as 300,000 clandestine marriages were performed at Fleet Prison alone. The Act required a marriage ceremony to be officiated by an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church with two witnesses and registration. The Act did not apply to Jewish marriages or those of Quakers, whose marriages continued to be governed by their own customs.

In England and Wales, since 1837, civil marriages have been recognised as a legal alternative to church marriages under the Marriage Act 1836. In Germany, civil marriages were recognised in 1875. This law permitted a declaration of the marriage before an official clerk of the civil administration, when both spouses affirm their will to marry, to constitute a legally recognised valid and effective marriage, and allowed an optional private clerical marriage ceremony.

In many jurisdictions, a civil marriage may take place as part of the religious marriage ceremony, although they are theoretically distinct. In most American states, a wedding 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 government authority separately from (usually before) any religious ceremony, with the state ceremony being the legally binding one. Some jurisdictions allow civil marriages in circumstances which are notably not allowed by particular 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, even without formally marrying. 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.

Lack of recognition

The status in the eyes of one authority may not be the same as for another, e.g., a marriage may be recognised civilly, but not by a church, and vice versa. Normally a marriage entered into in one country will be recognised in other countries. Sometimes, however, a religious ceremony or a marriage entered into in one country is not recognized by another. (See Marriage (conflict).)

In some cases couples living together do not wish to be recognised as married, such as when pension or alimony rights are adversely affected, or because of taxation consideration, or because of immigration issues, and for many other reasons.

Rights and obligations

A marriage, by definition, bestows rights and obligations on the married parties, and sometimes on relatives as well, being the sole mechanism for the creation of affinal ties (in-laws). These may include:

  • giving a husband/wife or his/her family control over a spouse’s sexual services, labor, and 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.


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.

Conversely, marriage is not a prerequisite for cohabitation. In some cases couples living together do not wish to be recognised as married, such as when pension or alimony rights are adversely affected, or because of taxation consideration, or because of immigration issues, and for many other reasons.

In some cases cohabitation may constitute a common-law marriage, and in some countries the laws recognise cohabitation in preference to the formality of marriage for taxation and social security benefits. This is the case, for example, in Australia.

Sex and procreation

Marriage typically requires consummation by sexual intercourse, and non-consummation (that is, failure or refusal to engage in sex) may be grounds for an annulment.

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.

On the other hand, marriage is not a prerequisite for having children, and having children outside of marriage is today not as uncommon as it used to be. 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.

Many of the world's major religions look with disfavor on sexual relations outside of marriage. Some teach that sexual relations without marriage are fornication, which is sometimes also socially discouraged or even criminalized. Sexual relations by a married person with someone other than his/her spouse is normally called adultery, and is also frequently disapproved by the major world religions (some calling it a sin), and has often been - in some jurisdictions continues to be - a crime and grounds for divorce. (See adultery.)

Marriage restrictions

Marriage 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.

Gender restrictions

Some legal, social, or religious restrictions apply in some countries on the genders of the couple.

In response to changing social and political attitudes, some jurisdictions and religious denominations now recognize marriages between people of the same sex. In some jurisdictions these are sometimes called civil unions or domestic partnerships, while some others explicitly prohibit same-sex marriages.

In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the modern era to extend the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples under the name of registered partnership. Since 2001, five countries have come to recognise same-sex marriages for civil purposes, namely the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa, and Norway is on track to become the sixth in 2009. To avoid the use of the term "marriage", some governments provide civil unions, which are open to couples of the same sex, and in some jurisdictions also to those of opposite sexes who do not want to marry, to confer all or a portion of the benefits of married status. Civil unions (and registered/domestic partnerships) are currently recognized and accepted in approximately 30 out of 193 countries worldwide and in some U.S. states. However, in countries where it has been adopted, applications for marriage licenses have far exceeded governmental estimates of demand. Some jurisdictions, such as the nations of Israel, Aruba, and the Netherlands Antilles, as well as the U.S. States of New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island, recognize same-sex marriages lawfully entered into in other countries, while not (yet) permitting them to be performed locally.

In addition to civil authorities, some religious denominations ceremonially perform civil unions and same-sex marriages, and recognize them as essentially equivalent to other marriages. For example, Lutheran churches in Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and some Lutheran churches of the Evangelical Church in Germany allow blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples, as do Unitarian Universalist churches.

In the United States, Massachusetts and California are the only states 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, and the ruling is currently under consideration by the highest court in Iowa.) In other states, civil unions or domestic partnerships are available to couples of the same sex, often carrying the same entailments as marriage, under a different name. However, these apply only to benefits under state law, and are not recognized by the U.S. federal government or other states (with a few exceptions).

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.

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. In contrast to the three above-mentioned U.S. states where the state constitutions have been found by courts to require equivalent marriage for same-sex couples, several states have specifically defined marriage as between a man and a woman, often after popular referenda, 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. Federally, the U.S. congress has considered, but failed to pass, a Federal Marriage Amendment. In addition, while Lutheran churches in some countries allow blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples, as stated previously, in other countries, (such as Finland) such ceremonies are discouraged and rarely performed by the church.

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 first cousins is preferred, while at the other extreme, the medieval Catholic Church prohibited marriage even between distant cousins.

All mainstream religions prohibit some marriages on the basis of the consanguinity (lineal descent) and affinity (kinship by marriage) of the prospective marriage partners, though the standards vary.


Polygamous marriage, in which a person is married to more than one spouse at one time, is illegal in many countries, but accepted by other 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. 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.

Cultures that allow polygamy still sometimes place restrictions on it. For instance, in Islam a man is allowed to marry up to 4 women at the same time, but only in cases where (1) his first wife is infertile, (2) the local population is unbalanced with women strongly outnumbering men, or (3) he claims a strong love and sexual attraction for the potential wife which he says makes him fear of adultery. In each of these situations, all current wives are freed to leave the marriage if they so desire.

Polygyny (one husband with multiple wives) is the typical form of multiple-marriage polygamy, while polyandry (one wife with multiple husbands) is rare. Anthropologists distinguish between multiple-marriage polygamy and group marriage, in which multiple spouses all become married to one another. Group marriage is also 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 separate religious authority.

Social restrictions

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 certain 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.

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., many 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.

Marriage and religion

All mainstream religions have strong views relating to marriage. Most religions perform a wedding ceremony to solemnize the beginning of a marriage. Some regard marriage as simply a contract, while others regard it as a sacred institution.

Most Christian churches bless the couple being married, and 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 ministers 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 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. (cf. Ephesians 5:31-33)

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 commends marriage, with the age of marriage being whenever the individuals feel ready, financially and emotionally, for marriage. According to Shia Islam marriage doesn't require any witness or official statement or presence in a definite place. To create a religious contract between them, it is sufficient that a man and a woman indicate an intention to marry each other and recite the requisite words. A couple can live with each other as a family without an official contract. Of course there are some criteria which should be observed; for example, the 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. A Bahá'í marriage requires the consent of the couple, and then of all living parents, as to strengthen the ties between the families and avoid enmity.

Hinduism sees marriage as a sacred duty that entails both religious and social obligations. Old Hindu literature in Sanskrit gives many different types of marriages and their categorization ranging from "Gandharva Vivaha" (instant marriage by mutual consent of participants only, without any need for even a single third person as witness) to normal (present day) marriages, to "Rakshasa Vivaha" (marriage performed by abduction of one participant by the other participant, usually, but not always, with the help of other persons).

For the most part, religious traditions in the world reserve marriage to heterosexual unions, but there are exceptions including Unitarian Universalist, Metropolitan Community Church, and Quaker, United Church of Canada and Reform Jewish congregations.

Financial considerations

The financial aspects of marriage vary between cultures and have changed over time.


In many cultures the family of the bride was historically expected to provide a dowry to the husband. A dowry was not an unconditional gift, but was usually a part of a wider marriage settlement. For example, 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 be returned to her family, but 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.

In some cultures, dowries continue to be required today, while some countries impose restrictions on the payment of dowry.

Bride price and dower

In other cultures, the groom or his family were expected to pay a bride price to the bride's family for the right to marry the daughter, or dower, which was payable to the bride. If the groom or his family did not have the bride price to offer to the bride's family, sometimes a bride service may be accepted in its place. This required the groom to work for the bride's family for a set period of time.

In the Jewish tradition, the rabbis in ancient times insisted on the marriage couple entering into a marriage contact, called a ketubah. Besides other things, the ketubah provided for an amount to be paid by the husband in the event of a divorce or his estate in the event of his death. This amount was a replacement of the biblical dower or bride price, which was payable at the time of the marriage by the groom to the bride or her parents. This innovation was put in place because the biblical bride price created a major social problem: many young prospective husbands could not raise the bride price at the time when they would normally be expected to marry. So, to enable these young men to marry, the rabbis, in effect, delayed the time that the amount would be payable, when they would be more likely to have the sum. It may also be noted that both the dower and the ketubah amounts served the same purpose: the protection for the wife should her support cease, either by death or divorce. The only difference between the two systems was the timing of the payment. It is the predecessor to the wife's present-day entitlement to maintenance in the event of the breakup of marriage, and family maintenance in the event of the husband not providing adequately for the wife in his will. Another function performed by the ketubah amount was to provide a disincentive for the husband contemplating divorcing his wife: he would need to have the amount to be able to pay to the wife.

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. Islamic tradition has similar practices. A 'mahr', either immediate or deferred, is the woman's portion of the groom's wealth (divorce) or estate (death). These amounts are usually set based on the groom's own and family wealth and incomes, but in some parts these are set very high so as to provide a disincentive for the groom exercising the divorce, or the husband's family 'inheriting' a large portion of the estate, especially if there are no male offspring from the marriage. In some countries, including Iran, the mahr or alimony can amount to more than a man can ever hope to earn, sometimes up to US$ 1000,000 (4000 official Iranian gold coins). If the husband cannot pay the mahr, either in case of a divorce or on demand, according to the current laws in Iran, he will have to pay it by installments. Failure to pay the mahr might even lead to imprisonment.


In some cultures, dowries and bride prices continue to be required today. In both cases, the financial arrangements are usually made between the groom (or his family) and the bride's family; with the bride in many cases not being involved in the arrangement, and often not having a choice in whether to participate in the marriage.

In Early Modern Britain, the social status of the couple was supposed to be equal. After the marriage, all the property (called "fortune") and expected inheritances of the wife belonged to the husband. The wife was often called "his property", but she was entitled to his protection, which a single woman was not.

Modern customs

In many countries today, each marriage partner has the choice of keeping his or her property separate or combining properties. 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 firstly to the spouse and secondly 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.

Other considerations

Sometimes people marry for purely pragmatic reasons, sometimes called a marriage of convenience or sham marriage. For example, according to one publisher of information about "green card" marriages, "Every year over 450,000 United States citizens marry foreign-born individuals and petition for them to obtain a permanent residency (Green Card) in the United States. While this is likely an over-estimate, in 2003 alone 184,741 immigrants were admitted to the U.S. as spouses of U.S. citizens.


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.

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. In either event the people concerned are free to remarry (or marry). After divorce, one spouse may have to pay alimony.

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


Many people have proposed arguments against marriage for various reasons. These include political and religious criticisms, pragmatic reference to the divorce rate, as well as celibacy for religious or philosophical reasons.

Controversial views

Some views about marriage are controversial. Advocates of same-sex rights criticize the exclusion of homosexual relationships from legal and social recognition and the rights and obligations 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

Related concepts


Further reading

Search another word or see receive marriageon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature