WHAT IS MARRIAGE?
Common Law Definition
"lawful union of one man and
Definition (Bill C38)
"lawful union of two persons
to the exclusion of all others"
“A series of customs formalizing
the relationship between male and
female adults within the family.
Marriage is a socially approved
union between a man and a
woman that regulates the sexual
and economic rights and
obligations between them.
Marriage usually involves an
explicit contract or understanding
and is entered into with the
assumption that it will be
permanent.” Ferraro 2005
Characteristics of Marriage
1. socially approved or sanctioned?
2. sexual union
3. between a man and a woman?
4. between adults?
5. Political / religious / economic union
6. a bundle of rights, expectations, and
7. assumption of relative permanence
8. legal (a contract)
9. between individuals?
10.part of a social process
1. Socially Approved
Is it OK for unmarried Prior to 1960 unmarried couples in
couples to cohabit? the US were legally prevented from
registering in hotels or obtain a home
In Canada, the number of common-
law relationships more than doubled
between 1981 and 2001 (14% 2001)
Women in the 90s were more likely
than women in the 80s to cohabit rather
than marry in response to pregnancy.
Suggests that cohabitation is
becoming more a substitute for
marriage, rather than a form of
engagement that culminates in
Living in Sin?
Even older people, when a marriage breaks up are now more likely
to first enter a common law relationship before re-marrying
Who Should one Marry/Not Marry
Rules of Exogamy (out marriage) and
It was only after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1967 that
mixed race couples could marry anywhere in the U.S
Cross Cousin and Parallel Cousin Marriages
Ego's cross cousins (yellow) are the children of opposite sexed
Ego's parallel cousins (green) are the children of same sexed
In some societies the ideal is to marry one’s cross cousin, as he/she
will belong to a different lineage (for alliance purposes), or parallel
cousin, as he/she will be in the same lineage (inheritance purposes).
Holds for parents and siblings in all
Only exceptions in past:
Brother-Sister mating among royalty in
ancient Egypt, Hawaii, Inca
Cleopatra, the Last Pharaoh (B.C. 69-30)
reigned as Queen Philopator and Pharaoh between 51 and
Married brother Ptolemy XIII
After Ptolemy XIII’s death, married brother Ptolemy XIV
Prohibitions on Cousin Marriages in the USA
Explanations for incest taboo
• Inbreeding results in Deleterious genetic defects
• Familiarity breads contempt
• Increases network of cooperation, prevents fighting
• Minimizing sexual competition within family
• Avoids role disruption within family
Many, many years ago when I was just twenty-three,
I was married to a widow, she was pretty as could be.
This widow had a grown-up daughter who had hair of red
And my father fell in Love with her. Soon they too were wed. I’m My Own
This made my dad my son-in-law--changed my very life!
My daughter was my mother because she was my father's wife!
To complicate the matter even though it brought me joy,
I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy.
My little baby he then became a brother-in-law to Dad.
Well, that made him my uncle--made me very sad!
Because if he was my uncle then he also was a brother
To the widow's grown-up daughter, who, of course, was my stepmother.
My father's wife then had a son who kept them on the run.
And, of course, he became my grandchild because he was my daughter's son.
My wife is now my mother's mother and this makes me blue
Because although she is my wife, she's my grandmother too!
Now if my wife is my grandmother, well, then I am her grandchild,
And every time that I think about this, it nearly drives me wild!
Because now I have become the strangest case that you ever saw
As husband of my grandmother, I’m my own grandpa!
2. Sexual Union?
Marriages of Convenience
Nayar Girls, Upper Class. Photo
Is exclusivity in a
relationship necessary? by Nicholas & Co. [ca. 1913]
3. Between a Man and a Woman?
Are same sex marriages,
an affront to a divinely
ordained order ?
The Nandi- Kenya
Same Sex Marriages
1961 Illinois is the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize
homosexuality. Others follow in 1960s and 1970s
1967 Britain decriminalizes homosexuality
1969 homosexuality decriminalized in Canada
1989: Denmark becomes the first country to legally recognize
same-sex partnerships, essentially sanctioning gay marriages
2000Vermont is the first state in the U.S. to provide same-sex
couples with rights, benefits and responsibilities similar to those of
2001: The Netherlands allows same-sex couples to marry and gives
them the same rights as heterosexuals when it comes to adopting
2003 June 10, Ontario widens marriage definition allowing same-
sex couples to obtain marriage licenses. Other provinces follow
2005 (July 20) Bill C-38 becomes law redefining marriage as a
“lawful union of two persons” permitting same sex marriage
4. Between Adults?
Mina, 8, with Sukhram, 22, right, and his
family members, after their marriage
(Rajasthan N. India 1998)
Each year thousands of girls, some as young as
6 months, are married to older boys in
Berber Child Bride, weddings across the Rajasthan as part of the
Morocco (12 yrs old) annual Akhai Teej, festival considered an
auspicious day for marriage.
Human rights activists have demanded Friends say she was forced to
action over the marriage of Ana-Maria consummate the marriage. "Legally it
Cioaba to a 15-year-old bridegroom. was rape," one friend said.
Ana-Maria is reported to be either 12 or The wedding was an "exceptionally
14 years old grave breach of children's rights", said
Romanian Deputy Prime Minister
Family members say she had been
promised in marriage to 15-year-old Birita
Mihai when she was just seven, for the
September 30 2003
price of 500 gold coins.
The girl's father, Florin Cioaba, told
critics to keep out of his business. "As a
father I know what is good for my kids.
We Roma have a tradition to marry our
children when minors," he said.
The minimum age for legal weddings in
Romania is 16, but the practice of school-
age marriages remains common in the
Roma community, and the Romanian Florin Cioaba was defiant about Ana-
authorities normally turn a blind eye. Maria's wedding
5. Political, Religious, Economic Union?
Catherine of Aragon
Bridewealth or bride-price
A gift of money or goods given to the
bride’s kin by the groom or his kin.
most common in pastoral communities
where the traditional currency is livestock,
especially cattle, horses, camels and,
in order to marry, young men must
subordinate themselves, and become
obligated to their elders (and provide labour,
political support, bear arms etc.)
senior men also therefore command the
allocation of women’s labour power. Dani Chief with Bride
some men use this power to obtain several
wives for themselves
payments may be concluded at the time of marriage or may
continue for years.
Bridewealth provides for a continuing relation between groups
since in many societies a man’s kin are expected to contribute to the
bridewealth needed for this marriage.
Represents a tangible
public statement of the
marriage transaction -- as if
they went through a church
Some dramatic changes in
bridewealth have occurred
with the introduction of
education. An educated
women is worth far more
than an uneducated one.
Bridewealth is most
common in patrilineal
For the Nuer and
Dinka, the transfer of
cattle in marriage has
a symbolically and
place in the affairs of
rights transferred to the groom’s group in exchange for
• rights over a woman’s fertility
• future members
characteristically seen as compensation to her kin group for the
loss of her work services and presence as well as her fertility.
• Legalizes marriage and legitimizes offspring
• In patrilineal system, gives father the right to
have the children belong to his group
• Compensates bride’s family for loss of her
services and allows them to replace her with
• Serves to ally families, those who receive share
of payment are witnesses to marriage
• Status symbol for both families
• Guarantee of husband’s good behavior
Bride service: groom works for bride’s family
A transfer of goods or money from the bride’s family to bridegroom,
or the groom’s family.
1. a dowry is a woman’s share of parental property
which instead of passing to her upon her
parent’s death is distributed to her at the time of
2. which does not mean that she controls it
3. under traditional European law, for example a
woman’s property falls exclusively under the
control of her husband.
4. Also provides a mechanism for forming alliances
between families A Kazak woman
5. characteristic of societies with fixed plot opening a young bride's
agriculture dowry. The dowry
6. common among European peasants and handsewn mattresses,
widespread in Asia, especially India dresses, and dishes.
Bollywood spoof posters
Dowry is still an essential part of
marriage negotiations in India.
But nearly 5000 women a year are Anti-Dowry
killed because they did not bring a big Demonstration
enough dowry ("bride burning" or Delhi, 1980
6. A Bundle of Rights and Obligations
Traditionally, in most societies, marriage was primarily an
alliance between kin groups rather than between individuals.
marriage involves a transfer or
flow of rights from a wife’s group
to husbands (or vice versa)
• rights to labour of men and
• rights to property
• rights to the priority of
sexual access (sexual)
• rights over fertility -
children i.e. belong to man’s
or woman’s lineage Gabonaise Woman – Michael Brugger
Belarus 68% Austria 38 7. Assumption of
Russia 65 Denmark 35
Sweden 64 Slovakia 34 Relative
Latvia 63 Bulgaria 28
Ukraine 63 Israel 26
Czech Rep. 61 Kyrgyzstan 25
Belgium 56 Romania 24
Finland 56 Portugal 21
Lithuania 55 Poland 19 Divorces (as % of
U. K. 53 Armenia 18 marriages) in
Moldova 52 Greece 18 Selected Countries
U.S. 49 Spain 17
Hungary 46 Azerbaijan 15
Canada 45 Croatia 15
Norway 43 Cyprus 13
France 43 Georgia 12
Germany 41 Italy 12
Netherlands 41 Uzbekistan 12
Switzerland 40 Albania 7
Iceland 39 Turkey 6
Kazakhstan 39 Macedonia 5
Divorce in non-Western societies
often involves a contract between corporate groups
and is more difficult than in West
where bridewealth is high marriage is stable, where
low divorce common
what happens to the bridewealth?
sometimes all or part returned
may depend on the cause of divorce, or any children
what happens to the contract between kin groups in
terms of rights over the children.
The relationship contractually established may endure
despite the death of one of the partners
8. A legal contract
What happens when the contract is broken?
Deuteronomy 25:5-6 “If Levirate
brothers are living together
and one of them dies without
a son, his widow must not
marry outside the family.
Her husband’s brother shall
take her and marry her and
fulfill the duty of a brother-
in-law to her… The first son
she bears shall carry on the
name of the dead brother so
that his name will not be
blotted out from Israel.”
If a wife dies her lineage may be contractually obliged to provide
a replacement I.e. her sister, or brother’s daughter, or some
other close relative
1. a widower is entitled to a replacement
bride from the same lineage or family.
2. obliges a woman to marry her
deceased sister’s husband.
3. The longer the period of first marriage
and the more children the less the claim.
4. levirate and sororate demonstrate that
marriage is a union not simply between
individuals but between the
representatives of groups and that it is a
Nuer Ghost Marriage
A Nuer woman whose husband has
died remains subject to a legal
contract through which rights to her
children were transferred to her
Ideally, she should remarry her
deceased husband's brother.
Alternatively she may simply take
Any children she then bears are
socially defined as the offspring of
her dead first husband.
Occasionally an unwed woman may
marry the “ghost” of a dead man
9. Between individuals?
How Many Should one Marry?
one man and two or more women. (70% of societies)
Polygamy has been the cultural ideal in most societies.
But monogamy is the statistical reality in all societies.
most common where women are important contributors to the
economy e.g. agricultural societies
Polygyny often practised by men of wealth or high rank
Commonly associated with an age asymmetry, were prominent
men have gained power and wealth later in life and can afford
This causes a shortage of young women, and an excess of young
men marry at an older age than women.
Advantages for man:
Wealth produced by
wives and children
Sex partners -- often
Political alliances with
Tom Green and Family
Salt Lake City Utah
Advantages for woman
Advantages for woman
• Prestige and wealth of
• Share housework and
• Less child bearing
• Greater freedom and
• Companionship Conflicts
• Can get married easily Conflicting interest in children –
two or more men share
married to one woman
common form is where
a group of brothers
marry one woman -
E.g. In Himalayas with land shortage its an effective way of
limiting the population while ensuring their perpetuation.
The marriage of brothers to a single woman averted the danger
of constantly subdividing farmlands among all the sons of any
10. Marriage as a process
process through which
families and kinship groups
process whereby descent
groups are interlinked
process of achieving
reproduction of society, both
socially and biologically.
Functions of Marriage
Regulates mating, reproduction and child rearing in a socially
Provides a mechanism for regulating the sexual division of
labor – domestic relationships that facilitate the exchange of
goods and services.
Creates a set of family relationships that can provide for the
material, educational and emotional needs of children.
provides for the woman in many technologically simply
societies there is no means whereby an unmarried woman can
defines social position of individuals e.g. adulthood
establishes legal rights and interests e.g. over property,
Serves as an instrument of political relations between
individuals and groups
Why do People Get Married
Defines relations of pair to each other, their
kin, future offspring and society
Traditional reasons for marriage:
• Gain adult status
• Sexual division of labor
• To have legitimate children
• Economic and political considerations
History of Passionate Love
1500 west diverges from rest of
world - emergence of the self
the rise of individualism, democracy
reinforces romantic love
West: 500 yrs to make transition
Rest of world: - 50 yrs
love marriage sweeps the world
Rules of Residence
Patrilocal: Wife joins husband’s family
Matrilocal: Husband joins wife’s family
Neolocal: Couple form new residence