Types of marriages

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The type, functions, and characteristics of marriage vary from culture to culture, and can change over time. In general there are two types: civil marriage and religious marriage, and typically marriages employ a combination of both (religious marriages must often be licensed and recognized by the state, and conversely civil marriages, while not sanctioned under religious law, are nevertheless respected). Marriages between people of differing religions are called interfaith marriages, while marital conversion, a more controversial concept than interfaith marriage, refers to the religious conversion of one partner to the other's religion for sake of satisfying a religious requirement.

Americas and Europe

In the Americas and Europe, in the 21st century, legally recognized marriages are formally presumed to be monogamous (although some pockets of society accept polygamy socially, if not legally, and some couples choose to enter into open marriages). In these countries, divorce is relatively simple and socially accepted. In the West, the prevailing view toward marriage today is that it is based on a legal covenant recognizing emotional attachment between the partners and entered into voluntarily.

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

  • There emerged a preference for maternal custody of children after divorce, as custody was more often settled based on the best interests of the child, rather than strictly awarding custody to the parent of greater financial means.
  • Both spouses have a formal duty of spousal support in the event of divorce (no longer just the husband)[clarification needed]
  • Out of wedlock children have the same rights of support as legitimate children
  • In most countries, rape within marriage is illegal and can be punished
  • Spouses may no longer physically abuse their partners and women retain their legal rights upon marriage.
  • In some jurisdictions, property acquired since marriage is not owned by the title-holder. This property is considered marital and to be divided among the spouses by community property law or equitable distribution via the courts.
  • Marriages are more likely to be a product of mutual love, rather than economic necessity or a formal arrangement among families.
  • Remaining single by choice is increasingly viewed as socially acceptable and there is less pressure on young couples to marry. Marriage is no longer obligatory.
  • Interracial marriage is no longer forbidden.

Asia and Africa

Nubian wedding with some international modern touches, near Aswan, Egypt

Key facts concerning the marriage law in Africa and Asia:

Some societies permit polygamy, in which a man could have multiple wives; even in such societies however, most men have only one. In such societies, having multiple wives is generally considered a sign of wealth and power. The status of multiple wives has varied from one society to another.

In Imperial China, formal marriage was sanctioned only between a man and a woman, although among the upper classes, the primary wife was an arranged marriage with an elaborate formal ceremony while concubines could be taken on later with minimal ceremony. After the rise of Communism, only strictly monogamous marital relationships are permitted, although divorce is a relatively simple process.

Polygamy, monogamy, and polyandry

Polyandry (a woman having multiple husbands) occurs very rarely in a few isolated tribal societies. These societies include some bands of the Canadian Inuit,[citation needed] although the practice has declined sharply in the 20th century due to their conversion from tribal religion to Christianity by Moravian missionaries. Additionally, the Spartans were notable for practicing polyandry.[1]

Societies which permit group marriage are extremely rare, but have existed in Utopian societies such as the Oneida Community.[citation needed]

Today, many married people practice various forms of consensual nonmonogamy, including polyamory and Swinging. These people have agreements with their spouses that permit other intimate relationships or sexual partners. Therefore, the concept of marriage need not necessarily hinge on sexual or emotional monogamy.

Christian acceptance of monogamy

In the Christian society, a "one man one woman" model for the Christian marriage was advocated by Saint Augustine (354-439 AD) with his published letter The Good of Marriage. To discourage polygamy, he wrote it "was lawful among the ancient fathers: whether it be lawful now also, I would not hastily pronounce. For there is not now necessity of begetting children, as there then was, when, even when wives bear children, it was allowed, in order to a more numerous posterity, to marry other wives in addition, which now is certainly not lawful." (chapter 15, paragraph 17) Sermons from St. Augustine's letters were popular and influential. In 534 AD Roman Emperor Justinian criminalized all but monogamous man/woman sex within the confines of marriage. The Justinian Code was the basis of European law for 1,000 years.

Several exceptions have existed for various Biblical figures, incestuous relationships such as Abraham and Sarah,[2] Nachor and Melcha,[3] Lot and his Daughters,[4] Amram and Jochabed[5] and more.[6][7][8]

Christianity for the past several years has continued to insist on monogamy as an essential of marriage.

Contemporary Western societies

In 21st century Western societies, bigamy is illegal and sexual relations outside marriage are generally frowned-upon, though there is a minority view accepting (or even advocating) open marriage.

However, divorce and remarriage are relatively easy to undertake in these societies. This has led to a practice called serial monogamy, which involves entering into successive marriages over time. Serial monogamy is also sometimes used to refer to cases where the couples cohabitate without getting married.

Unique practices

Some parts of India follow a custom in which the groom is required to marry with an auspicious plant called Tulsi before a second marriage to overcome inauspicious predictions about the health of the husband. This also applies if the prospective wife is considered to be 'bad luck' or a 'bad omen' astrologically. However, the relationship is not consummated and does not affect their ability to remarry later. One should note that this is not a norm found across the entire Indian sub-continent.

In the state of Kerala, India, the Nambudiri Brahmin caste traditionally practiced henogamy, in which only the eldest son in each family was permitted to marry. The younger children could have sambandha (temporary relationship) with Kshatriya or Nair women. This is no longer practiced, and in general the Nambudiri Brahmin men marry only from the Nambudiri caste and Nair women prefer to be married to Nair men. Tibetan fraternal polyandry (see Polyandry in Tibet) follows a similar pattern, in which multiple sons in a family all marry the same wife, so the family property is preserved; leftover daughters either become celibate Buddhist nuns or independent households. It was formerly practiced in Tibet and nearby Himalayan areas, and while it was discouraged by the Chinese after their conquest of the region, it is becoming more common again.[9]

In Mormonism, a couple may seal their marriage "for time and for all eternity" through a "sealing" ceremony conducted within LDS Temples. The couple is then believed to be bound to each other in marriage throughout eternity if they live according to their covenants made in the ceremony. Mormonism also allows living persons to act as proxies in the sealing ceremony to "seal" a marriage between ancestors who have been dead for at least one year and who were married during their lifetime. According to LDS theology, it is then up to the deceased individuals to accept or reject this sealing in the spirit world before their eventual resurrection. A living person can also be sealed to his or her deceased spouse, with another person (of the same sex as the deceased) acting as proxy for that deceased individual.

One society that traditionally did without marriage entirely was that of the Na of Yunnan province in southern China. According to anthropologist Cia Hua, sexual liaisons among the Na took place in the form of "visits" initiated by either men or women, each of whom might have two or three partners each at any given time (and as many as two hundred throughout a lifetime). The nonexistence of fathers in the Na family unit was consistent with their practice of matrilineality and matrilocality, in which siblings and their offspring lived with their maternal relatives. In recent years, the Chinese state has encouraged the Na to acculturate to the monogamous marriage norms of greater China. Such programs have included land grants to monogamous Na families, conscription (in the 1970s, couples were rounded up in villages ten or twenty at a time and issued marriage licenses), legislation declaring frequent sexual partners married and outlawing "visits", and the withholding of food rations from children who could not identify their fathers. Many of these measures were relaxed in favor of educational approaches after Deng Xiaoping came into power in 1981. See also the Mosuo ethnic minority of China and their practice of walking marriage.

Types of marriages

  • Arranged marriage – A marriage that is at some level arranged by someone other than those being married.
  • Avunculate marriage – Marrying one's own uncle or aunt. Cf. inbreeding and incest.
  • Beena marriage – A form of marriage used in pre-Islamic Arabia, in which a wife would own a tent of her own, within which she retained complete independence from her husband, a form of matriarchy.
  • Boston marriage – A marriage-like relationship between two women, not necessarily sexual; also historic lesbian relationships.
  • Celestial marriage – A marriage performed in a Latter Day Saint temple.
  • Child marriage – A practice in which the one or both spouses are prepubescents, while not necessarily below the legal marriageable age. Cf. teen marriage.
  • Common-law marriage – A form of interpersonal status that is legally recognized in some jurisdictions as a marriage even though no legally recognized marriage ceremony is performed or civil marriage contract is entered into or the marriage registered in a civil registry.
  • Cousin marriage – Marriage between first cousins. Cf. inbreeding and incest.
  • Covenant marriage – A marriage in which the couple agrees to obtain pre-marital counseling before marrying, and accept more limited grounds for divorce.
  • Customary marriage – Nikah 'urfi a type of informal flash marriage in some Islamic traditions. Cf. Las Vegas wedding.
  • Endogamy – A marriage within the boundaries of the domestic group, between members of the same group.
  • Exogamy or Intermarriage – Marriage between people belonging to different groups or backgrounds.
  • Female husband marriage – A marriage in which a female who has been raised as male takes a wife in order to ensure the continuity of the family.
  • Female-led marriage – A monogamous, heterosexual marriage in which both partners agree that the woman will act as the leader, principal partner and ultimate authority of the relationship, commonly referred to as an FLR.
  • Fleet Marriage – The best-known example of an irregular or a clandestine marriage taking place in England before 1753.
  • Flash marriage – A speedy marriage between couples. Cf. Las Vegas wedding and Nikah 'urfi.
  • Forced marriage – A marriage in which one or more of the parties is married without his/her consent or against his/her will.
    • Marriage by abduction – A form of forced marriage in which a woman who is kidnapped and raped by a man is thereafter regarded as his wife.
  • Ghost marriage – The marriage of a woman to a man who died before he could marry using the man's brother as a stand-in.
  • Group marriage – A form of polygamous marriage in which more than one man and more than one woman form a family unit, and all members of the marriage share parental responsibility for any children arising from the marriage.
    • Line marriage – A form of group marriage in which the family unit continues to add new spouses of both sexes over time so that the marriage does not end.
  • Handfasting – A traditional European ceremony of marriage or betrothal, commonly practiced by Neopagans today, which may or may not result in a legally recognized marriage.
  • Heqin – An arranged marriage for political alliance during Medieval China.
  • Hollywood marriage – A marriage between Hollywood celebrities or a marriage that is of short duration and quickly ends in separation or divorce.
  • Human-animal marriage – A marriage between a human and a non-human animal.
  • Hypergamy – Marriage for the purpose of upward mobility.
  • Lavender marriage – A marriage between a man and a woman in which one, or both, parties are, or are assumed to be, homosexual.
  • Levirate marriage – A marriage in which a woman marries one of her husband's brothers after her husband's death, if there were no children, in order to continue his line. Cf. Sudanese ghost marriage.
  • Love marriage – A marriage where the basis for the marriage is love. Cf. sham marriage and forced marriage.
  • Marriage of convenience – A marriage intended to serve some pragmatic purpose, not a love marriage. Cf. sham marriage.
  • Mixed-orientation marriage – A marriage where one spouse has a different sexual orientation than the other spouse.
  • Monogamy – Marriage with one spouse exclusively for life or for a period of time. Cf. serial monogamy
  • Morganatic marriage – A marriage which can be contracted in certain countries, usually between persons of unequal social rank, which prevents the passage of the husband's titles and privileges to the wife and any children born of the marriage.
  • Polygamy – Plural marriage:
    • Bigamy – One person having two spouses.
    • Polyandry – The marriage of one wife to several husbands. Fraternal polyandry is a variant in which the husbands are brothers (see Polyandry in Tibet.)
    • Polygyny – The marriage of one husband to several wives.
  • Proxy marriage – Marriage ceremony during which the wedding couple is absent.
  • Open marriage – A marriage in which the partners agree that each is free to engage in extramarital sexual relationships, without regarding this as sexual infidelity.
  • Remarriage – Entering into a new marriage after having terminating a previous one. Cf. serial monogamy.
  • Peer Marriage is a type of marriage popular in various countries where the partners each identify as responsible for both earning and the work of parenting and child care.
  • Plaçage – A recognized extralegal system in which white French and Spanish and later Creole men entered into the equivalent of common-law marriages with women of African, Indian and white (European) Creole descent. Cf. concubinage
  • Posthumous marriage – A marriage which occurs after one or both parties is deceased, e.g. a Chinese ghost marriage.
  • Putative marriage – An apparently valid marriage, entered into in good faith on part of at least one of the partners, which is invalid because of an impediment. Cf. void marriage.
  • Same-sex marriage – A marriage between spouses of the same sex.
  • Self-marriage – A marriage by a person to himself or herself.
  • Self-uniting marriage – A marriage in which two partners are married without the presence of a third-party officiant.
  • Sexless marriage or mariage blanc – A marriage in which there is no sex between the two partners. Cf. marriage of convenience.
  • Sham marriage – Marriage as a pretext to commit fraud. Cf. green card marriage and voidable marriage.
  • Shared Earning/Shared Parenting Marriage – A type of marriage popular in various countries where the partners choose at the outset of the marriage to share the work of childraising, earning money, housework and recreation time in nearly equal fashion across all four domains.
  • Shim-pua marriage – A Taiwanese tradition of arranged marriage, in which a poor family (burdened by too many children) would sell a young daughter to a richer family for labour, and in exchange, the poorer family would be married into the richer family, through the daughter.
  • Sister exchange – The husbands trade sisters to be each other's wives in order to keep any group from losing a woman.
  • Sororate marriage – A marriage in which a man marries his wife's sister, usually after the wife is dead or has proved infertile.
  • Teen marriage – A practice in which the one or both spouses are teenagers below age of majority, while not necessarily below the legal marriageable age. Cf. child marriage.
  • Temporary marriage – A contract entailing a brief, fixed-term marital status:
  • Trial marriage – A situation were the couples agree to stay together without formalising or legalising the relationship as they wait to see whether it is going to work out.
  • Walking marriage – A practice of a matrifocal group in which the husband spends the nights with his wife, but he departs in the morning to work in his mother's household.
  • Yogic marriage – A tradition of Hindu marriage done within Shavite Sadhus and Sadhvis, to enable them to get positive energy from yajnans and homas.


  1. "Pomeroy, Sarah B.: Spartan Women, page 46. Oxford University Press";
  2. "BibleGateway, Genesis 20,20:11-12";
  3. "Genesis 11:26-29; NIV – After Terah had lived 70 years, he". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2013-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Genesis 19:31-36; NIV – One day the older daughter said to the". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2013-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Exodus 6:19-20; NIV – The sons of Merari were Mahli and". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2013-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "II Kings 13:1-2; NIV – Jehoahaz King of Israel – In the". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2013-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "II Kings 13:8-12; NIV – As for the other events of the reign of". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2013-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "II Kings 13:14; NIV – Now Elisha had been suffering from the". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2013-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Sidner, Sara (24 October 2008). "Brothers share wife to secure family land". CNN. Retrieved 16 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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