The evolution of marriage

Published by Subash TS on

Marriage has been one of the oldest practices of mankind, originating even before recorded history. So needless to say it has grown through dark times mirroring the characteristics of the period and has stood the test of time. Albeit with a few face lifts.
Let’s take a little walk through time and explore its history.

Strategic alliances

Marriage, to begin with, was a strategic alliance between families and conducted by the elders of the family, with the children involved having no right over the proceedings.
In some cultures, a time existed where parents even married one child to the spirit of a deceased child in order to strengthen familial bonds.


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The practices were both ghastly and ghostly.

Keeping it in the family

Keeping alliances within the family was quite common. In the Bible, the forefathers Isaac and Jacob married cousins and Abraham married his half-sister. Cousin marriages haven’t ceased to exist throughout the world, particularly in the middle east and is to this day found in patches across southern India. In fact, Anthropologist Robin Fox has estimated that the majority of all marriages throughout history were between first and second cousins.

Game of thrones seems cute now doesn’t it ?
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Age of Polygamy

Monogamy may seem integral to the pillars of marriage today but there was an age where polygamy was highly prevalent. Men from biblical history often had anywhere from two to thousands of wives. In a few cultures, one woman married multiple men, and there have even been some rare instances of group marriages.
Wonder what it would be like in the 21st century?

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I wonder..

To baby, or not to baby

Throughout the world in many early cultures, men had the right to call a marriage off or dissolve it or even marry to another woman if the woman was infertile. Thankfully, the Christian church argued that marriage was not dependent on producing offspring.
The early Christian church stood firm that if you can give birth you must not refuse to do so. Although in a turn of events, they did take the stand that a marriage could be annulled if a man is unable to have sex with his wife.
Sure nobody would want to live in this chauvinistic sexist timeline…

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Age of monogamy (In other words, the birth of adultery)

Monogamy soon started to cover ground for Western marriages sometime between the sixth and the ninth centuries. This did lead to a rise in argument between the catholic church and the old nobility and kings who found it hard to digest the idea of a single wife. The church did win that argument, with monogamy taking center stage by late ninth century.

Old age kings, new age politicians much ?
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Monogamy version beta

Monogamous marriages, still was not like the modern concept of mutual fidelity. Although, Marriage was recognized between just one man and one woman, until the 19th century, men still had the right to engage in extramarital affairs.
Any children resulting, however, would be illegitimate, with no claim to the man’s inheritance.
Men’s interests were quite protected by the dual laws of legal monogamy basically enabling of informal promiscuity, women on the other hand faced serious consequence if caught.
No joke in this one, just sad.

State vs church
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Marriages were initially contracts between the families of the two involved in marriage with both the church and state staying out of it. Up until the 1500’s, a couples word was enough to convince the church that they exchanged marriage vows with no evidence or witness required.

Least a green card would have been easier.

Marriage by the state

The state starts to play a greater role in marriage and by the 19th century marriage licenses were common in the United States. In India, the 1872 Act III, was enacted but later it was found inadequate for certain desired reforms, and Parliament enacted a new legislation. Henry Sumner Maine first introduced Act III of 1872, which would permit any dissenters to marry whomever they chose under a new civil marriage law. In the final wording, the law sought to legitimize marriages for those willing to renounce their profession of faith altogether (“I do not profess the Hindu, Christian, Jewish, etc. religion”). Overall, the response from local governments and administrators was that they were unanimously opposed to Maine’s Bill and believed the legislation encouraged marriages based on lust, which would inevitably lead to immorality.
The Special Marriage Act, 1954 replaced the old Act III, 1872.

Love matches

Marriage had come to be bound on love and sexual attraction and matches based on such had gained ground. Still, Feelings of such weren’t necessarily mutual or considered to be mutual until less than a century ago, in fact women in Victorian England were thought to not experience any strong sexual urges.

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Yeah..this definitely needed the baby again.

Economics and democracy

With the world transitioning from an agricultural economy to a market economy led to an increase in love matches as inheritance of agricultural land was a thing of the past and people could now say ‘to hell with it, ill marry who i want’
The modern market economy also gave greater a greater independence and exercise their suppressed participating role in the economy. And the expansion of democracy, played into the hands of love matches.

Equal ? Not really.

Marriage still wasn’t about equality until about less than 50 years ago. Women and men had stark differences in the rights they possessed, for instance in many states in the united states marital rape was still legal until the 70’s, women weren’t even allowed to open credit cards in their names and were thus still dependent on their husbands.

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Birth of equals

The belief that men and women both had the same obligations within a marriage became more common. Instead of pre determined gender based roles, partners decided among themselves rules that fit them best.

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Love is all that matters

As marriage based on love had become increasingly prevalent, it paved the way for same sex marriages.
One of the main reasons for the increasing acceptance in same sex marriages is because of the change in the idea of what a marriage is, with people hurriedly accepting the idea of marriage being based on mutual love, mutual sexual attraction, flexible division of labour and most importantly, equality.

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