Marriage is the legally or formally recognized union of individuals as partners in a relationship usually involving reproduction. It is virtually universal because reproduction is necessary to the survival of the human race. Some kind of marriage system is found throughout the world, whatever culture or society you may examine, though there are some large societies that advocate celibacy to devote their lives to their God. This is the case for some Christian and Buddhist religions and their monastaries and nunneries..

Monogamy is the western societies’ principle system. The only universally recognized form of marriage that is acceptable in all societies is strict monogamy -- marriage between two people. Only 20% of the world’s societies are considered strictly monogamous, in which a person is married once in his or her life. The U.S. is not a strictly monogamous society. Our society has serial monogamy, in which a person may marry more than one person, so long as the person has only one spouse at a time.

Polygamy, in which a man has more than one wife, occurs in several cultures. The Muslim countries of the Middle East, Asia and North Africa often have polygamous marriages. Muslim men are allowed by law to have up to four wives. Polygamy is usually only used by men who are wealthy enough to support more than one wife. Historically, this type of marriage occurred in Native American cultures before the introduction of European values. One specialized version of polygamy is levirate, in which a man marries the widow of his dead brother. This was described extensively in the Bible and used mostly by ancient Hebrews in order to maintain a family connection and alliance. Sororate allows a man to marry one or more of his wife’s sisters. This still occurs in the world today and is generally used in the instance of the first wife’s death or if she is barren.

Polyandry is a custom in which a woman may have multiple husbands, but this occurrence is rare. Central Asian cultures, southern India, Tibet and Sri Lanka are places where this form of marriage occurs. Usually, it is because of a disproportionate ratio of the genders. These are areas where female babies are not wanted, and are often killed at birth. This results in a shortage of women. Polyandry compensates for this shortage.

The different types of marriages listed above show that marriage is not one set, unchangeable definition. Even in male-female marriage practices, there are many variances in what is acceptable. However, the average American citizen may not have such a global awareness of marriage. This may in part be due to the Christian heritage of the majority of U.S. citizens. This country directs the most marriage exposure to Christian church weddings. It may not occur to many people that there are other traditions of marriage in other countries that are considered equally valid. What this country considers the most natural and normal is not necessarily a universal standard. That the range of acceptable marriage practices may change in the future is not an unprecedented possibility nor is it unrealistic to expect changes. Marriage has never been an immutable and fixed standard.

The way in which a marriage is decided changes from place to place according to the societal and cultural attitudes towards marriage. Religion and geography play a role in determining how marriages develop.

Infant betrothal, arranged marriages, and marriage by individual choice are different ways that marriages are agreed upon.

Infant betrothal and arranged marriages are a common custom and were widely prevalent in the past. In India, especially, parents decide the marriage partner of their child at birth. In Judaic culture, it has been a common practice for a young couple to meet each other for the first time on their wedding day. Certain areas of India and China also reflect marriages that occur while the two are strangers. Arranged marriages were typical in the early United States and Europe until the middle of the 1900s.

The institution of marriage has changed dramatically over the centuries to reflect evolving understandings of family, money, sex, love and power. Although many of the rules we consider to be "tradition" in marriage are surprisingly recent, dissenters have often claimed that changes in marriage laws would lead to "disease and the collapse of marriage, the family, children, . . . morality, and civilization itself." But marriage persists, though constantly redefined. Western law since 1800 has increasingly supported sexual and emotional choice, and same-sex marriages inevitably progress from this movement. Graff explains why so many same-sex couples think the time is right to make a public claim to this institution.

Through the centuries and in the customs of the various societies, we find a great deal of diversity in the wedding ceremonies and sometimes find it missing entirely. In one society he girl must be “kidnapped” and if the prospective groom in foiled in his attempts at kidnapping, the marriage is off. In other societies the father of the bride must sometimes be paid a price that corresponds to the working power she represents, or the bride to be brings her dowry. In other societies the father of the bride must pay the groom to take her off his hands. In our contemporary society this is why the father of the bride pays for the wedding.

Romantic love was crafted by the troubadours of the Middle Ages. At that time it was believed that romantic love was only to be found outside of marriage. It is from the beginning of the nineteenth century that we started talking about the marriage of love – true love.

Until the eighteenth century marriage was a system necessary for individual survival. Increasingly since then, marriage has been equated with love and now, it is seen as the natural consequence of love. If you fall in love you will probably marry has been the thinking.

Until 1965 matrimonial regimes always followed the 1804 civil code:

The married woman has existence under law.

The couple now have a community existence, especially as to property.

A set of rights and duties is created between the husband and wife.

During the twentieth century “living together” began to become popular. A large number of couples choose to “live together” without benefit of marriage. Common-law marriage laws were invoked in most states. In almost all juridictions, “living together” is not a crime unless one of the two partners is already married. Until the end of the twentieth century, the law had no interest in those who chose to “live together” unless it was not a permanent arrangement. The state has long had an interest in discouraging temporary physical unions as being contrary to the well-being of the state

Since 1999 the courts, whether or not they recognize common-law marriage, assign to the union all the legal obligations of a civil marriage. .

Marriage, or the regulation of marriage, is today an office of the state. This was not always so.

Up until less than 100 years ago, marriage was an office of the church. It was the church that kept the records and legitimized the union of two people. About 150 years ago the state put forth its claim that marriage was a social contract and as such was to be regulated and records kept by the state.

About this time, justices of the peace and court judges began to claim the right to also perform marriages. At this time, most people were outraged by the concept and regarded a marriage performed outside of a church as “not a proper marriage”, an attitude that persists even to this day.

The state has successfully usurped the church’s role in marriage. It is generally believed that one cannot lawfully get married without a license from the state. This is not true.

Since there is a separation of church and state, and since, when this nation was founded, churches were the wielders of the right to perform marriage, this right cannot be taken away. True, if you want to have your marriage recorded in the state records, you will have to acquire a state-issued marriage license and be obedient to state limitations on such a license - but, if you choose to get married by a church and not bother with the state-license, such a marriage is lawful. Further, a church-only marriage is not limited by most of the state limitations on marriage.

The state has no right to regulate the sacraments of a church. Marriage is such a sacrament. Just as the state cannot control at what age a person should be baptized, so the state has no control over who the church chooses to marry. Therefore, in the New Age, there are many types of marriage. New Agers are tolerant of homosexual marriages, group marriages, polygamy and polyandry.

The church will marry whom the church will marry!

The very rite of marriage was not always a function of the church, until about 2000 years ago, marriage was often no more than a oral agreement between two people. When there were estates involves and powerful families, then a public announcement and ceremony were made to make sure the world knew what property had changed hands and to whom.

Often, the priests were called in to bless the couple with fertility, but that was the extent of the church’s involvement.

After the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church, the Roman prudery became the policy and the church usurped the role of regulating sexuality and marriage in hopes that sensuality and sexuality could be curbed. History shows their efforts were not very successful.

Despite the Catholic Church’s insistence that the first law of God is to marry and reproduce, the Bible actually records the law as: Multiply and replenish the Earth. Marriage is not mentioned.

Then there is the appendix to this law, which makes reference to the physical attraction that exists between man and woman and says: For this cause shall a man leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.

Upon this foundation the various faiths have created the social structure of marriage which they claim is “the will of God.” Actually this social structure is the will of the church and serves the ends of the church, though in some instances it no longer serves anyone’s end but is simply residue from a time in which it did serve some purpose.

As a socio-legal structure marriage can serve the purpose of ensuring the stability of the family as ‘the children are raised. But ultimately, we must face the reality that the nuclear family, the ideal of the 50s, is unrealistic.

As Hillary Clinton titles her book, It takes a village to raise a child.

In truth it may not take an entire village, but it certainly requires, two parents, four grandparents and numerous uncles and aunts and cousins, plus interested neighbors to ensure that a child will raised properly with all the insights and strengths necessary to a fulfilled life.

Two solitary parents cannot do it or at least it requires superhuman effort and lots of luck for two parents to raise child on their own.

Except for child care and security and a few financial advantages, the institution of marriage serves no purpose.