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by John M. Roberts

Marriage is a union between individuals in a consensual and contractual relationship that is recognized by the eyes of society and by the rules of law. Sometimes called wedlock, or holy matrimony, marriage is a common term for the legal bonding of a man and a woman.

Marriage, in most cases, is intended to be a lifelong commitment, and by taking their wedding vows, two individuals acknowledge the founding and maintenance of family ties, thereby changing their individual status' from single to married and making known their willingness to change their current individual lifestyles to one that includes the both of them.

Before the actual marriage, the woman is called the bride, and the husband is called the bridegroom. Once the ceremony has been concluded, the woman is then called the wife, and the man is called the husband.

In most countries, marriage is considered a legal contract, upheld by the laws of that country, and recognized as valid in other countries. In religious contexts, marriage is considered a sacrament, to be held in high regards as an outward sign that conveys an inward spiritual grace.

Men and women marry for a number of reasons, however, most marry for love that is based on compatibility, physical attraction, and devotion to one another. Others marry for financial, social, or political reasons. Some marry out of loneliness, desperation, and simply for companionship.

Although polygamy, the act of taking more than one spouse, is common in certain societies, and same sex marriages, is allowed in some jurisdictions, most marriages are monogamous, between one man and one woman, as husband and wife.

Since marriages are regulated by both laws and societal restrictions, regulations may restrict or prohibit marriage between certain people and define, by law, the obligations and rights of the husband and wife.

Laws may dictate certain aspects of marriage through property rights, age limitations, mental stability or competence, blood ties and incest, bigamy, inheritance rights, and the termination of a marriage through divorce or by annulment.

In some countries, wedding ceremonies are often used to declare marriages, as long as the ceremony is officiated by by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other religious authority who is sanctioned by, and acts as an agent for the government. In other countries, a couple has to be married by the state before a religious ceremony is held, in which the state marriage is considered valid and binding.

In the United States, although the laws of each state are similar, individual states make and regulate it's own laws pertaining to marriage. Each state require a marriage license, usually from the county in which the marriage is to take place. Some states require blood tests, while others require a medical examination.

Other types of marriages:

  • Common law marriage: A union that takes place without a license or ceremony in which two people live together as domestic partners. A common law marriage is recognized in some jurisdictions and gives the same entitlements to one, or both spouses, as if they were married by law. They have the same rights as married persons, and if they have children together, the children are considered legitimate.
  • Same-sex marriage: A marriage in which persons of the same sex unites in a civil union that is sanctioned by the laws of certain jurisdictions.
  • Polygamy: When a man marries two or more women, with each wife having knowledge of the others. In some countries, and religions, polygamy is legal and is widely practiced.
  • Polyandry: When a woman has two or more husbands at the same time. Although rare, polyandry has been, and may still be, practiced in certain countries.
  • Bigamy: When a spouse takes on a second marriage in jurisdictions in which such practices are illegal.
  • Sororate marriage: One in which a man marries his deceased wife's sister.
  • Livirate marriage: One in which a man is required, or encouraged, to marry his deceased brother's wife.

In some cultures, various restrictions and limitations are put on the choice of a spouse, such as marrying within a certain social group, called endogamous, or marrying outside the group, called exogamous.


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