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marriage, socially sanctioned union that reproduces the family. In all societies the choice of partners is generally guided by rules of exogamy (the obligation to marry outside a group); some societies also have rules of endogamy (the obligation to marry within a group). These rules may be prescriptive or, as in the case of the incest taboo, proscriptive; they generally apply to kinship groups such as clan or lineage; residential groups; and social groups such as the ethnic group, caste, or class.
Historically marriage was typically heterosexual and entailed exclusive rights and duties of sexual performance, but there are instructive exceptions. For example, Nayar women of India would ritually marry men of a superior caste, have numerous lovers, and bear legitimate children. Among the Dahomey of West Africa, one woman could marry another; the first woman would be the legal “father” of the children (by other men) of the second. These examples highlight the functions of marriage to reproduce both a domestic division of labor and social relationships between different groups. Such functions are served even by the more common type of marriage, the union of one or more men with one or more women.
In most societies men and women have been valued for their different roles in the household economy. Marriage therefore often has occasioned other economic exchanges. If a woman's labor is highly valued, a man may be required to offer valuable goods (bride-price) or his own labor (bride-service) to his wife's family. If a man's labor is more highly valued, the bride's family may offer goods (dowry) to the husband or his family.
Marriage as a Societal Bond
In many societies marriage links not just nuclear families but larger social formations as well. Some endogamous societies are divided into different exogamous groups (such as clans or lineages): Men form alliances through the exchange of women, and the social organization regulates these alliances through marriage rules. In some cases, two men from different groups exchange sisters for brides. Other instances involve an adult man marrying the young or infant daughter of another man; sexual relations would be deferred for many years, but the two men will have formed a strong bond. Marriages are often arranged by the families through the services of a matchmaker or go-between, and commence with a ritual celebration, or wedding. Some cultures practice trial marriage; the couple lives together before deciding whether they should marry. Societies have generally prescribed where newlywed couples should live: In patrilocal cultures, they live with or near the husband's family; in matrilocal ones, with or near the wife's family. Under neolocal residence, the couple establishes their own household.
Although marriage tends to be regarded in many places as a permanent tie, divorce is allowed in most modern societies. The causes of divorce vary, but adultery, desertion, infertility, failure to provide the necessities of life, mistreatment, and incompatibility are the most common. Civil unions are now permitted in Western countries, but for nearly a thousand years marriage in the Western world was a religious contract. The Christian church undertook its supervision in the 9th cent., when newlywed couples instituted the practice of coming to the church door to have their union blessed by the priest. Eventually the church regulated marriage through canon law.
In contemporary Europe marriage has lost some of importance, especially as social legislation in some nations has emphasized assuring equal financial benefits and legal standing to children born to unwed parents. Some European nations also grant legal recognition to couples in less restrictive unions; such partnerships typically have some but not all of the legal rights extended to married couples, but the partnership usually can be more easily dissolved.
Forms of Marriage
See C. Levi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1969); E. A. Westermark, The History of Human Marriage (3 vol., 5th ed. 1921; repr. 1971); J. M. Henslin, Marriage and Family in a Changing Society (2d ed. 1985); J. F. Collier, Marriage and Inequality in Classless Societies (1988); A. J. Cherlin, The Marriage-Go-Round (2010).
marriagea socially acknowledged and sometimes legally ratified union between an adult male and an adult female. Some preindustrial societies recognize POLYGAMY, either POLYGYNY in which a man may be married to more than one woman, or, much more rarely, POLYANDRY, in which a woman may be married to more than one man. MONOGAMY, however, is by far the most common form of marriage, even in societies where polygamy is permitted. See also KINSHIP, FAMILY, SOCIOLOGY OF THE FAMILY.
In preindustrial societies marriage has been regulated by kin relationships and has for the most part reflected kin interests. Expectations would be either to marry within the group (ENDOGAMY), or in other societies the contrary EXOGAMY. Within industrial societies personal choice is more prominent, with the idea of ROMANTIC LOVE, or ‘affective individualism’, having great influence. Choice of marital partner, however, would appear to operate generally within a narrow social range.
Another marital form increasingly found in industrial societies is cohabitation, where a male and female live together in a sexual relationship without marrying, although often as a prelude to marriage. On a much smaller scale there are also ‘gay’ (both LESBIAN and HOMOSEXUAL) marriages and communal arrangements.
The sociological study of marriage in industrial societies has a number of preoccupations currently, including:
- marriage rates – the number of adults that are married as a proportion of the adult population. This is a figure that seems to be influenced by a range of factors, including age at marriage, changes in FERTILITY, longevity MIGRATION, wars and broad economic circumstances including the changing patterns in the employment of married women;
- the distribution of power within the marital relationship. The evidence is that this may be changing slowly. Across all social classes, however, the evidence is that economic and locational decisions are still made by men. The SYMMETRICAL FAMILY remains exceptional;
- the ‘discovery’ of violence within marriage. This has led to a substantial body of research revealing the widespread abuse of women within marriage in many societies and in all social classes (see WIFE BATTERING). Such studies have provided part of the feminist critique of the institutions of both marriage and the family;
- the factors affecting remarriage. Within industrial societies, remarriage is increasing among the divorced and the widowed. This phenomenon has led to the recognition of a new familial form, namely the reconstituted family (or stepfamily) involving the coming together of partners who bring with them the offspring of earlier relationships. Despite the growth in the divorce rate, remarriage in most industrial societies is increasingly popular, giving rise to the notion of serial monogamy.
a form of relationship between a woman and a man which is historically conditioned, sanctioned, and regulated by society. It establishes their rights and obligations to each other and to their children.
The nature of marital relationships to a great extent determines the growth of the population and the physical and spiritual condition of new generations. Marriage regulates and realizes the natural need of people to continue their families, which is transformed by social conditions and culture.
In the final analysis the social essence of marriage is determined by the dominant social relations; it is also affected by politics, law, morality, and religion. By sanctioning a marriage, society undertakes the definite tasks of preserving it and imposes on the people who have entered into it responsibility for ensuring the material care and upbringing of their children and consequently the future of the family. “If marriage were not the basis of the family,” wrote K. Marx, “then it would not be a subject for legislation, as is the case, for example, with friendship” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 1, p. 162). As a social relationship, marriage is primarily of a moral nature, since the man and woman enter into it as individuals. Among the moral values that are especially important for the stability of a marriage are individual sexual love, conjugal and parental duties, and mutual respect and aid.
Various hypotheses have been advanced regarding the initial forms of marriage. Most Soviet scholars consider that originally, during the period of the primitive human group, there was no marriage. So-called promiscuous relationships prevailed; each woman of a given group could have sexual relations with all the men, and each man in a group could have sexual relations with all the women. With the development of the clan structure during the Middle or Upper Paleolithic period, exogamy and group marriage appeared; all the men of one group had the right to sexual relations with all the women of another group. As the clan structure developed, the sporadic cohabitation of individual pairs led to the rise of the paired marriage, which united only one conjugal pair. It was possible for the mates to continue living separately within their own clan (dislocated marriage); later the husband began to live in his wife’s clan (matrilocal marriage) and still later the wife, in her husband’s clan (patrilocal marriage). The personal property of the mates remained separate. Marriage was unstable and easily dissolved; there were extensive survivals of group marriage. In the late Neolithic and subsequently in the metal ages, the disintegration of the clan structure led to the rise of the patriarchal family and along with it, of monogamous (single-pair) marriage. Monogamy firmly united the mates to each other and to their offspring, thereby ensuring the integrity of the family, which for the first time became an economic unit of society. The wife together with her children fell under the husband’s power. The purchase and abduction of brides became widespread, as did levirate, barter, and parallel cousin marriages. Monogamous marriage later found its final form of expression in the monogamous or small family, which arose during the concluding stage of the decline of the primitive communal structure. The development of monogamous marriage was speeded up with the appearance of private property, which gave rise to the proprietary form of monogamy. Its most characteristic traits are priority of utilitarian considerations (accumulation of property and its transfer by inheritance) over all other considerations (psychological, moral, and aesthetic), the enslavement of women, and the enforcement of conjugal fidelity.
In antagonistic class formations, monogamous marriages acquire a number of social and legal features that are characteristic of a given formation. Thus marriage in a slave-owning society was recognized only for free citizens, whereas conjugal relations between slaves were regarded simply as cohabitation. During the early Middle Ages in Europe, church marriage became obligatory for everyone; serfs, however, could marry only with the consent of their feudal lord. Under capitalism the extension of employment for women, the decline of the prestige and influence of religion, and the democratization of marriage, family legislation, and sexual morality led, on the one hand, to a disorganization and crisis of the “classical” proprietary marriage (an increase in the number of divorces and desertions) and, on the other hand, to the development of a new form of marital relations, based primarily on mutual feelings and personal choice and characterized by the relative legal equality of the mates.
The socialist transformations of society, which ensure the equal rights of women and men and promote the spread of communist morality among the masses, lead to a moral enrichment of the relationships between the sexes. Marriage under socialism is a voluntary and equal union of a man and a woman, free from utilitarian calculations and the interference of third parties. Its purpose is to guarantee the partners the rights to matrimony and parenthood. The legal and moral regulation of marital relations does not contradict the freedom of marriage, and is directed first and foremost toward protecting it from the vestiges of the old proprietary morality.
A. G. KHARCHEV and A. I. PERSHITS
Legal regulation. Marriage entails the establishment of special legal relationships between the spouses and later, between the spouses and their children and other members of the family. In the USSR legal actions can be taken only in the cases of marriages that have been solemnized according to established procedure. A marriage that has not been contracted in the proper manner does not entail any marital rights and obligations between a man and a woman. Marriage registrations are carried out by the register offices for documents of civil status (ZAGS) or by rural (settlement) soviets, that conduct the functions of the ZAGS. Religious marriage ceremonies have no legal significance. This rule does not apply to the religious ceremonies that were performed before the formation or restoration of the Soviet ZAGS or to the documentary proof of such marriages (art. 6 of the Code of Marriage and the Family of the RSFSR, 1969). In the USSR all questions connected with the institution of marriage are regulated by the 1968 Fundamentals of the Legislation of the USSR and the Union Republics on Marriage and the Family (Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR, 1968, no. 27, p. 241), by the republic-level codes on marriage and the family (KOBIS), and by other legislative acts of the Union republics. A marriage may be contracted solely with the mutual consent of the man and woman; mutual consent excludes any sort of pressure upon the persons entering into matrimony and eliminates the possibility of a marriage being contracted by deception. The violation of this principle signifies a discrepancy between the declaration of intention of a person entering into marriage and his or her actual intention; therefore, the marriage is considered illegal and invalid. A marriage cannout be registered between persons if one of them is declared to be incompetent because of mental illness or feeblemindedness. In order to contract marriage, the partners must have attained the prescribed so-called marriageable age, which in the USSR is 18. This age may be lowered by the legislation of the Union republics, but not by more than two years. Registration of marriages before the age of 18 is allowed by the codes of the Union republics in special cases as exceptions.
Marriage is possible under the condition that neither party is legally married to another person at that time. In those Union republics where a man having two or more wives is a vestige of old customs, such marriages are considered illegal and subject to criminal prosecution. Marriages are not allowed between certain relatives: along the direct line of descent no matter what the degree of relationship and along the collateral line—between brothers and sisters, whether full or half, and between adoptive parents and their adopted children. The most important principle of Soviet legislation on marriage and the family is the complete legal equality of men and women. The possibility of entering into a marriage and the nature of marital relations are not affected in any way by national or racial factors or by religious faith. No one’s permission is required to form a marriage union. The process of contracting a marriage consists of two steps: the submission of a declaration concerning the registration of the marriage and the registration itself. (A marriage is considered to be registered from the time that a certificate of registration is issued.) A marriage can be terminated according to established laws.
In the legislation of other socialist countries the legal regulation of marriage is based on principles that are analogous to the principles of Soviet law.
As a rule, marriage is a civil and legal transaction in the legislation of bourgeois states. Accordingly, the procedure for solemnizing a marriage is established not by family legislation but by civil legislation, which is extremely archaic. Thus, in the Federal Republic of Germany the German Civil Code of 1896 has remained in effect to this day with some insignificant changes; in France the Civil Code of 1804, with amendments made in 1965, is in effect. A characteristic feature of the legislation of most bourgeois states is the lower status of women in the family, her inferior status with regard to property rights, and a belittlement of her parental rights. The marriageable age in most countries is lower for women. In France it is 15 for women and 18 for men; in Italy, 14 for women and 16 for men; in the Federal Republic of Germany, 16 for women and 21 for men; and in the USA (in various states), 14 to 18 for women and 15 to 21 for men. In Great Britain the marriageable age for both men and women is 16. Of extreme importance in contracting a marriage is settling the question of the property distribution between the future mates. In prerevolutionary Russia marriage was prohibited after the age of 80 (after the age of 60, according to ecclesiastical prescription). In 31 states of the USA marriage is prohibited between whites and Negroes. In a number of Muslim countries (for example, in Saudi Arabia and the Arab Republic of Yemen), polygyny is permitted by legislation. In many countries the church, especially the Catholic Church, has a powerful influence on questions relating to marriage and the family.
In certain countries (for example, in Iran and Japan) legislation recognizes the legal force of so-called temporary marriages, the duration of which is agreed upon by the parties involved and set down in a marriage contract. At the same time the amount of redemption that the spouse transfers to the wife in such a marriage is set. Upon the expiration of the period for which the contract was made, the marriage and all legal relations between the spouses are considered to be terminated.
REFERENCESEngels, F. “Proiskhozhdenie sem’i, chastnoi sobstvennosti i gosudarstva.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. “O znachenii voinstvuiushchego materializma.” In Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 45. Pages 31–33. Lenin, V. I. I. F.
Armānd ot 23 maia 1914, 4 ianvaria 1915 i 24 ianvaria 1915. (Letters.) Ibid., vols. 48 and 49.
Vol’fson, S. Ia. Sotsiologiia braka i sem’i. Minsk, 1929. Vol’fson, S. Ia. Sem’ia i brak v ikh istoricheskom razvitii. Moscow 1937.
Sverdlov, G. M. Brak i razvod. Moscow-Leningrad, 1949.
Kharchev, A. G. Brak i sem’ia v SSSR: Opyt sotsiologicheskogo issledovaniia. Moscow, 1964.
Kosven, M. O. Ocherki istorii pervobytnoi kul’tury, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1957.
Goode, W. J. World Revolution and Family Patterns. Chicago, 1963.
Aldous, J., and R. Hill. International Bibliography of Research in Marriage and the Family: 1900–1964. [Minneapolis, 1967.]
What does it mean when you dream about marriage?
Marriage in a dream symbolizes commitment of oneself to another. It can also represent the inner marriage of formerly disjunctive aspects of oneself. (See also Bride/Bridegroom.)