The anthropological handbook Notes and Queries (1951) defined marriage as "a union between a man and a woman such that children born to the woman are the recognized legitimate offspring of both partners." In recognition of a practice by the Nuer people of Sudan allowing women to act as a husband in certain circumstances (the ghost marriage), Kathleen Gough suggested modifying this to "a woman and one or more other persons." In an analysis of marriage among the Nayar, a polyandrous society in India, Gough found that the group lacked a husband role in the conventional sense; that unitary role in the west was divided between a non-resident "social father" of the woman's children, and her lovers who were the actual procreators.

None of these men had legal rights to the woman's child.

Religious marriage recognizes and creates the rights and obligations intrinsic to matrimony before that religion.

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In some cultures, marriage is recommended or considered to be compulsory before pursuing any sexual activity.

When defined broadly, marriage is considered a cultural universal. Individuals may marry for several reasons, including legal, social, libidinal, emotional, financial, spiritual, and religious purposes.

Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a socially or ritually recognised union between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between those spouses, as well as between them and any resulting biological or adopted children and affinity (in-laws and other family through marriage).

The definition of marriage varies around the world not only between cultures and between religions, but also throughout the history of any given culture and religion, evolving to both expand and constrict in who and what is encompassed, but typically it is principally an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually sexual, are acknowledged or sanctioned.

These changes included giving wives legal identities of their own, abolishing the right of husbands to physically discipline their wives, giving wives property rights, liberalizing divorce laws, providing wives with reproductive rights of their own, and requiring a wife's consent when sexual relations occur.

These changes have occurred primarily in Western countries.This in turn is derived from Old French, marier (to marry), and ultimately Latin, marītāre, meaning to provide with a husband or wife and marītāri meaning to get married.The adjective marīt-us -a, -um meaning matrimonial or nuptial could also be used in the masculine form as a noun for "husband" and in the feminine form for "wife".Some cultures allow the dissolution of marriage through divorce or annulment.In some areas, child marriages and polygamy may occur in spite of national laws against the practice.Edmund Leach criticized Gough's definition for being too restrictive in terms of recognized legitimate offspring and suggested that marriage be viewed in terms of the different types of rights it serves to establish.