What is Marriage?

Marriage is a relationship and bond between individuals that plays a key role in the definition of many families.


In modern times, the term marriage is generally reserved for a state sanctioned union. The phrase legally married can be used to emphasize this point. In the United States there are two methods of receiving state sanction of a marriage: common law marriage and obtaining a marriage license. The vast majority of US states to do permit common law marriage. Many localities do support various types of domestic partnerships.

In the West marriage has evolved from a life-time covenant that can only be broken by fault or death to a contract that be broken by either party at will. Other shifts in Western marriage since WWI include:

  • Unlike the 1800s women not men get child custody over 80% of the time,
  • Both spouses have a formal duty of spousal support (no longer just the husband),
  • Womem can vote (i.e., coveture no longer applies),
  • Out-of-Wedlock children have the same rights of support as legitimate children,
  • In most states rape can legally occur within marriage and be punished,
  • Husbands may no longer physically discipline/abuse their wife, and
  • Property acquired since marriage is not owned by the Title-holder. This property is considered marital and to be divided amoung the spouses by community property law or equitable distribution via the courts. There is a growing debate about the form(s) that marriage should take. Two of the most hotly-debated variants are same-sex marriage and polygamy.


Typically, marriage is the institution through which people join together their lives in emotional and economic ways through forming a household. It often confers rights and obligations with respect to raising children, holding property, sexual behaviour, kinship ties, tribal membership, relationship to society, inheritance, emotional intimacy, and love.


Marriage sometimes establishes the legal father of a woman’s child; establishes the legal mother of a man’s child; gives the husband or his family control over the wife’s sexual services, labor, and/or property; gives the wife or her family control over the husband’s sexual services, labor, and/or property; establishes a joint fund of property for the benefit of children; establishes a relationship between the families of the husband and wife. No society does all of these; no one of these is universal.


Marriage has traditionally been a prerequisite for starting a family, which usually serves as the building block of a community and society. Thus, marriage not only serves the interests of the two individuals, but also the interests of their children and the society of which they are a part.


What is Marriage | Civil Union | Wedding | Common Law Marriage | Marriage License