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Not to be confused with martial law or maritime law.Wikipedia
50% of all marriages end in divorce. Which is REALLY good considering the other 50% end in death.
George Carlin

Marriage, regulated as marital law, is a type of contract, usually (but not always) between two people, who are usually (but not always) a man and a woman. By marrying, the parties to a marriage contract are conferred legal and societal recognition as a family unit, ideally for life, and possibly with the intent of raising children. A temporary marriage is called a wedlease.

In the modern world, this is usually (but not always) done on the basis of love.[note 1] However, arranged marriages, often for the purposes of creating or cementing family alliances, have been commonplace throughout history, and are still common in many cultures around the world.

Although marriage was often a religious matter historically, it has recently become largely a status in civil law, much to the displeasure of the religious right, who take issue with the ways in which civil marriage differs from the marriages of their religious traditions (e.g., divorce, same-sex marriage). Some polities have tried to compromise by using a two-tier arrangement of "civil unions" (marriage in everything but name) and marriage (restricted to those unions deemed acceptable by the religion of the majority).

Reasons for marriage back in the day[edit]

Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two.
The Devil's Dictionary[1]
  1. The lack in birth control required the man and woman to either a) have a legal contract to secure a family unit or b) stop having sex. With the latter totally out of the question, marriage existed to try and prevent a man from running from their woman — stress on try. In any case, there's a reason why sex outside of marriage is considered taboo in many cultures, it denotes the very purpose of marriage. Marriage also encouraged "shotgun weddings", marrying upon the realization of conceiving a child — this didn't exclude rapists.[2]
  2. Marriage is a financial contract that enforced inheritance (primarily from a man to his first born son). In a time before genetic testing, marriage was a good way of securing inheritance.

For these reasons, divorce was rare in these societies: it could cause family feuds and legal problems, disrupt communities, and rob children of inheritances they regarded as their birthright. Remarriage after the death of a spouse was much more common, although not without similar tensions. The fairytale cliché of the "wicked stepmother" emerged from medieval society, when a father's new bride was often regarded with resentment or hostility by his widow's family, who saw her as a usurper, screwing them out of their inheritance, and displacing them in favor of her own progeny.

Some heteronormative societies limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, since the predominant Abrahamic faiths favor heterosexual marriage.

Legal issues in modern society[edit]

Civil versus religious marriages[edit]

Historically, the State took a very limited role in marriage; civil law did not require any ceremony to be performed for a couple to be considered married. In the Christian church, marriage was considered a sacrament and regulated by canon law.

This changed with the Protestant Reformation. Purification efforts by the Protestants resulted in the list of seven Catholic sacraments being shortened to two: baptism and communion. Subsequently, civil marriage appeared in some Protestant lands, specifically John Calvin's Geneva. The Counter-Reformation in the Catholic Church also tightened up the institution of marriage and led to requirements for all marriages to be performed by priests.

Civil marriage greatly increased in prevalence after the French Revolution, when France began to give legal status only to civil marriages; religious ceremonies could still be performed, but the State did not recognize them. This was incorporated into the Napoleonic Code and spread over a large part of Europe by Napoleon's conquests.

In the Tsarist Russia, "civil marriage" was used as an euphemism for "concubinage" (extra-marital co-habitation with sex included), since the only marriage recognized by state was a religious one. Then came the Communists and inverted the whole thing: now only the civil marriage counted, while the religious one was just a fancy ritual. The funny part is that the phrase was and is still used as an euphemism without changing the meaning up to this day.

In Western Europe today, the general view is that the chief purpose of marriage is civil in nature, to settle legal issues such as joint ownership of property, child custody, etc.; hence, the rule contained in the Napoleonic Code, of a mandatory civil marriage and an optional religious ceremony, have been widely adopted there.

Several countries, notably Israel, take the old-fashioned view and have no civil marriage; only religious ceremonies from "approved" religions are recognized by the State.

The U.S. has civil marriage, but requires no separate civil ceremony for those marrying in religious services; instead, clerics are licensed to perform civil weddings, allowing the civil and religious ceremonies to be rolled into one. This has led to the emergence of a number of "churches" whose raison d'être is to ordain people, hence licensing them to perform marriages. One notable example is the Universal Life ChurchWikipedia, a church founded by an ex-Pentecostal minister with no doctrine or barriers of entry to its clergy.

Property and debt[edit]

Some U.S. states impose the notion of "community property" on a married couple. Any income earned, or other property acquired, during the marriage is assumed to be joint property of both spouses. This can cause legal and financial headaches should a divorce occur, since then all the community property will have to be split between the spouses, and fairness can take a back seat to legal precendent.

Because the judges like to assume both parties contributed exactly 50% of the property, it becomes an issue very fast. Basically, if one party makes 200,000 a year, and the other raises the kids, if the second party cheats on them, and party 1 finds out, when they go to court, the judge will say that the money should be split indefinitely. That means that the breadwinner will need to fork over half of their stuff, their kids, and have to pay them 100k a year in alimony and child support because they make more money, and they will likely never see their kids again.[citation needed]

Debts incurred by one spouse can also be considered the joint responsibility of both spouses. If a couple separates, a vengeful or clueless partner can theoretically rack up enormous debts that his/her spouse will share responsibility for (and if the other spouse isn't aware of said debts, this can destroy his/her credit rating).

Reasons for marriage in modern society[edit]

Because we wanted to be together... When you have a girlfriend someday, or a really good blow-up doll, you'll understand.
—Darlene Conner

Most of the historically important pressures are no longer so relevant, with dynasticism largely a thing of the past. Birth control and abortion are available in most developed societies, meaning that sex no longer has to result in a family, and marriage is an option rather than a near-necessity. Nevertheless, many religions and other socially conservative influences continue to promote the importance of marriage, and to condemn those who choose to engage in sexual relationships without it.

The legality of marriages is still important, since they are recognized and upheld by the state. In most societies, partners in a legal marriage have recognised responsibilities and entitlements towards each other, such as the right to be considered next of kin and inherit property from a deceased spouse, the right of hospital visitation, and the right to sue under wrongful death statutes. Legislative rights and responsibilities are also incurred including: right to petition governments for citizenship of spouse, taxation rights and duties, shared finances including debt, and the obligation to care for children that come from such a union. However, the marriage partners also retain individual rights, identities and accountability.

The financial implications of marriage and divorce make them one of the biggest and most profitable areas of litigation. This has led to the trend of wealthy couples negotiating prenuptial agreements before they tie the knot, in order to protect each partner's interests in the case of a divorce.[3]

In most countries, only a marriage between one man and one woman is legally recognised. A few Islamic cultures and some in sub-Saharan Africa recognize polygynous households, in which a man takes more than one wife. In most Western countries, there has been increasing demand in recent years for same-sex marriages to be legally recognized. In some cases where legislation has approved homosexual marital contracts, these are actually "civil partnerships", roughly legally equivalent to marriage but not technically defined as marriage.


Wedlease is a fairly modern term, but the concept is actually quite old. People who think marriage is too expensive may instead perform a wedlease, which is a temporary marriage.[4] There are many types of wedleases around the world. In Iran a wedlease (temporary marriage) is called "sigheh" which is sometimes viewed as controversial.[5] In Iraq, a wedlease (temporary marriage) is called nikah mut'ah. In other parts of the Middle East it is called misyar.[6] Another type of wedlease is the halala marriage which means you get a wedlease prior to remarrying.[7] Someone who enters a temporary marriage is called a wedleaser. A person who has a wedlease arranged for him/her is a wedleasee. While sometimes there are legitimate reasons for temporary marriages, in many of the cases, it's a way to engage in prostitution without actually engaging in prostitution, because apparently it's that easy to outsmart god.[8]

Traditional marriage[edit]

Traditionally, marriages in most societies have involved a man and one or more women and are idealized as loving relationships. Historically, marriages have tended to make women subservient to men, as in the wedding vow to "love, honour, and obey". Women would be expected to provide and raise children, and to look after the home, while men would be expected to protect and provide for the family.

This conception of marriage with fixed gender roles has attracted fierce criticism from feminists, while many social conservatives still cling to it. One controversial aspect is the sexual obligations ("conjugal rights") ostensibly implied within traditional marriage. Nowadays, most democratic societies recognise that women (and men) are not obliged to have sex with their marriage partner, and hence that marital rape is a genuine and serious crime. However, chauvinists such as Phyllis Schlafly and Dr. LauraWikipedia have persisted in claiming that, by entering a marriage, a woman has agreed to consent to sex with her husband at any time, or that she has a "loving obligation" to do so.[9] One of the most commonly cited Bible passages cited in support of this is 1 Corinthians 7:4, which states that husbands and wives have privileges over the other's body and should not deprive each other of sex without mutual consent.[10][11] According to Catholics, to refuse one's spouse a reasonable request to participate in the act of sexual intercourse is to commit a mortal sin.[12]

The Religious Right promote the "one man, one woman" model of marriage as "traditional", ignoring the many Old Testament examples of polygamists, such as King Solomon — and that the Christian practice of monogamy was derived more from the pagan traditions of the Greco-Roman world than from the Bible. Indeed, this idea of traditional marriage being between "one man and one woman" wholeheartedly ignores the concept of the haremWikipedia (one man and many women) which has been dominant in many, if not most, human cultures throughout history.[13]

Shotgun weddings[edit]

Another flavor of "traditional" marriage. If a boy got a girl pregnant, well, clearly she was ruined and worthless forever. Therefore, the "honorable" thing for the lad to do was marry her.[14] The name comes from the image, historically accurate or not, of the father standing by with a shotgun to make sure his son-in-law-to-be didn't get cold feet. Fundamentalists still subscribe to the idea that a couple in this position ought to marry without regard to compatibility or readiness. Ostensibly, this is for the child's benefit, which is dubious if he/she grows up in a household with parents who are seething with resentment.

In the U.S., state laws often punished men with imprisonment unless they married a previously chaste woman whom they had seduced.[15] Oklahoma still has such a law.[16][17] In Virginia, until 2008, a statutory rape prosecution would be dismissed if the victim and offender subsequently married.

Extreme fundamentalists may, per the Bible, even advocate a shotgun wedding in cases of forcible rape.[18] In the Philippines, in a case of rape, "The subsequent valid marriage between the offended party shall extinguish the criminal action or the penalty imposed."[19][20] A similar law exists in Ethiopia.[21] In theory this is to basically "punish" a rapist on the assumption that he isn't actually looking to take care of his victim, but this often leads to cases where the rapist may rape someone to force them to marry. 20 countries still have a "marry your rapist" law on the books.[22]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

See the main article on this topic: same-sex marriage

Many fundamentalists and other wingnuts are aghast at the idea that two men or two women could apply for the same governmental rights that the civil institution makes available to heterosexual couples. Somehow, they constantly conflate the political and the religious institutions involved, and believe that the institution of marriage is being "destroyed" by opening it up to homosexuals.

As with "family values", religious conservatives often used phrases like "I strongly support traditional marriage" as an indirect way of saying "I hate the gays". By the same logic, they believe anybody who favours same-sex marriage rights to be opposed to "traditional marriage", as if it is impossible to support both heterosexual and homosexual marriage. This is a classic example of a false dichotomy.

It is by this kind of logic that the federal law passed in the United States in 1996, which denies same-sex couples of the right for their legal marriages to be recognized outside of their own state, is called the "Defense of Marriage Act".

Notably, some prominent figures who use the "traditional marriage" and "sanctity of marriage" rhetoric to oppose same-sex marriage undermine their own words by having children through extramarital affairs[23] and/or being serial divorcees.[24] And then, of course, there's Haggard's Law.

The case for marriage[edit]

Today, many men and women appear to be happily married in equal marriages. Even in countries where marriage resembles female bondage, most women want to be married,[note 2] likely because most men do not come close to exercising to the utmost extent the power that the law gives them over their wives in these countries. In almost all human cultures, the overwhelming majority of adults end up in heterosexual marriages. Exceptions are unnatural communities like monasteries and convents, and we've watched many documentaries about what really goes on there. Marriage or long-term partnership appears to be natural for humans.

Many who are happily domesticated quite like it. Probably due to hormonal drugs similar to the ones that make you think your offspring are cute rather than killing the horrible creatures.[note 3]

While it may be argued that marriage is simply a formalisation of the typical sexual, monogamous relationship (and is therefore not strictly necessary), you do get a nice cake out the deal, which is always a nice bonus.

Depending on the country, marriage may also grant you tax benefits or visitation rights if your partner falls ill that unmarried couples cannot get. There is are also some legal protections that extend to "next of kin" which means blood relatives and the person you married but not the person you live with, no matter how you yourself define said arrangement. While there are good arguments to criticize all of those aspects, a single person can do little to change them.

Feminist views[edit]

Criticism from radical feminists[edit]

American feminist Andrea Dworkin asserts that marriage is akin to the rape of women by men. She said:[25]

Marriage as an institution developed from rape as a practice. Rape, originally defined as abduction, became marriage by capture. Marriage meant the taking was to extend in time, to be not only use of but possession of, or ownership.

However, in a 1995 interview with author Michael Moorcock, she stated that her position on modern marriage was that it afforded the wife no protection from marital rape, putting her in direct opposition to anti-feminist ideologue, Phyllis Schlafly:[26]

There is a long section in Right-Wing Women on intercourse in marriage. My point was that as long as the law allows statutory exemption for a husband from rape charges, no married woman has legal protection from rape. I also argued, based on a reading of our laws, that marriage mandated intercourse--it was compulsory, part of the marriage contract. Under the circumstances, I said, it was impossible to view sexual intercourse in marriage as the free act of a free woman.

Feminist scholar Marlene Dixon, Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, said:[27]

The institution of marriage is the chief vehicle for the perpetuation of the oppression of women; it is through the role of wife that the subjugation of women is maintained. In a very real way the role of wife has been the genesis of women's rebellion throughout history.

Many feminist theorists, such as women's rights activist Victoria Woodhull[28] and Australian Dale Spender,[29] have argued that marriage is a form of institutionalized slavery and prostitution.

Other feminist views[edit]

The Radical Feminist view is not necessarily shared among other branches of feminism. Liberal Feminism, for instance, does criticize the institution of marriage on grounds of loss of autonomy, but only suggests changes, rather than outright abolition.[30] Large portions of the feminist community also extensively concern themselves with Same-sex marriage, seeing it as an opportunity to expand the equality in marriage itself, and are more interested in improving marriage, rather than, again, tearing it down entirely.[26]

Linda Hirshman has this recommendation for women seeking independence: Marry a man who is old and rich enough to hire "unlimited household help," by which she presumably means a lot of nannies and maids,[31] although she may mean a young pool boy. It's curious that there's an absence of "someone who respects women and doesn't mind splitting household chores fairly."

Marriage and religion[edit]

Within strict religious practices, marriage is frequently or generally institutionally oppressive. This is true today in Islamic countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, and was in Hindu areas until the first half of the twentieth century. Even today in parts of the Hindu society where religious teachings and traditional family values are strictly followed, marriage is oppressive. Progressive-minded Hindus oppose these traditional Hindu family values.

Christian marriage, if it strictly follows religious teachings and "traditional family values", is also oppressive. Historically, women often had to hand over control of their property to their husbands and promise to obey them. Some Christian religious teachers still in the 21st century tell a wife to obey her husband, though many pastors accept equal marriages.[32]

Forced marriage[edit]

Forced marriage is a form of abuse that happens especially in cultures where there is a tradition of arranged marriage. Girls are more often the victims of forced marriage. Sometimes young people may be tricked into forced marriage. For example, believing they are just going on holiday to the country of their parents' origin. Alternatively, young people are sometimes threatened with physical violence, or even honor killings, if they don't agree to a forced marriage. Laws are being passed in many countries to make forced marriage more difficult.[33] Child marriages happen in many cultures when the children, usually girls but sometimes boys, are too young to understand what is happening or to refuse. Marriages between adult men and prepubescent girls may be consummated before puberty.[34] Child marriages are legal and happen in many states of the United States.[35]

Arranged marriage[edit]

Arranged marriages represent a form of marriage where family elders orchestrate pairing off. Generally, parents shortlist the prospective spouse for their children and the children have the opportunity to meet the prospective match in a public or private setting before agreeing to the marriage.[36] A significant majority of the marriages in India and other south Asian countries start in this way.[37] Matchmaking in arranged marriages happens through the family's social network, through professional matchmakers, and through matchmaking websites.[38]

However, most arranged marriages in third world countries force young girls into marriages with random old men on the day of their first period. This is usually between 9-14.[citation needed]

European royal and noble families with dynastic or diplomatic ambitions formerly showed a certain skill-set in organizing arranged marriages, but recently appear to have lost some of their touch.

Cousin marriage[edit]

The views on marrying (first) cousins vary widely from culture to culture and from timeframe to timeframe. While it was de rigueur among the European nobility for centuries and even the bourgeois upper crust indulged in it from the time of its emergence to (at least) the early 20th century, today cousin marriage is often seen as "backwards" and near-incestuous in the West. Some US states even have laws on the books prohibiting it, though it is unclear what their effect is on out-of-state marriages. Many cultures that practice arranged marriage as par for the course also have high rates of cousin marriage. The actual danger through incest is not zero, especially if done over generations within a handful of extended families, as evidenced by the genetic deformities of Europe's reigning houses ca. 1914, but there is a big difference between one generation of kissing cousins and one generation of siblings that produce offspring; the risk is about the same as two unrelated parents with a woman in her early 40s naturally conceiving. Not to mention all that weird shit they got into in Ancient Egypt[note 4] or what the Targaryens did. That shit can't be healthy.

The Na culture[edit]

In the Na culture, a group of people in Southwest China, there are three different forms of marriage. In the past, the preferred system was the "visiting marriage", in which a Na woman is allowed to have as many suitors as fancy her, and a Na man is allowed to be involved with as many women as desire him. Following integration with the rest of Chinese society, this has changed somewhat, and once a child is born, a woman will typically, although not always, settle down with the child's father.[39]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Bierce, Ambrose, The Devil's Dictionary, Castle Books, NY, 1967
  2. Fundies Say The Darndest Things - "if a man rapes a woman in Gods eyes they are married"
  3. For a satire of money marriage and divorce litigation, see the Coen Brothers film Intolerable Cruelty.
  4. Paul Rampell (August 4, 2013). "A High Divorce Rate Means It’s Time to Try 'Wedleases'". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 12, 2013. 
  8. [ Temporary marriage in Iran and women's rights]
  11. "The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency."
  13. [1]
  14. See also Exodus 22:16, "And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife."
  18. See also Deuteronomy 22:28-29, "If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days."
  22. from teh Graniud
  23. Barnaby Joyce and ex-staff member Vikki Campion reportedly expecting a baby
  24. Chuck, Elizabeth. Kim Davis, Kentucky Clerk Blocking Gay Marriages, Has Had Her Own Marital Strife. NBC News.
  25. [2]
  26. 26.0 26.1 NOW article on feminism and SSM
  27. Marlene Dixon, "Why Women's Liberation? Racism and Male Supremacy"
  28. David A. J. Richards, Women, Gays, and the Constitution, pp 168, ISBN 9780226712079
  29. Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty, pp 230, ISBN 9780684843162
  30. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy entry
  32. Christian Pastor: The Reason Most Marriages Go Bad Is That Women “Believe They Are Equal Partners”
  33. Forced marriages
  34. 11-year old girl married to 40-year old man
  35. Child marriage in the U.S.: it’s far more common than you think
  36. Modern Arranged Marriages
  37. Why are so many arranged marriages successful?
  38. Why Indians use matchmaking sites?
  39. Tami Blumefield, The Na of Southwest China: Debunking the Myths.


  1. Or the societal pressure when there are children on the way: a "shotgun marriage".
  2. You could cynically say that they don't want the marriage, they want the wedding, and the pretty dress, and the pretty shoes, and the cake and the OH MY GOD!!! ARE THOSE FLOWERS BURGUNDY RED?!?! I ORDERED CARMINE RED FLOWERS! NOW MY DAY IS RUINED! GIVE ME CHOCOLATE!!!!!!!!!
  3. Irregular noun: My daughter is, of course, that intelligent, beautiful, and charming. Yours is an ill-raised brat.
  4. Ancient Egypt had royal inheritance through the woman as well as the man; the offspring of siblings would thus have a "stronger" claim to the throne than the offspring of one royal and an unrelated spouse. Interestingly, it was allowed for the older sister to marry her younger brother but not the reverse; Cleopatra Philopater married both of her younger brothers at different points.