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The Changing Purpose Of Marriage
September 9, 2021

1. Arranged alliances

Early marriage was seen as a strategic alliance between families, with the individuals involved often having no say in the matter.

2. Family ties

Retaining alliances within a family was also popular. Marriage to half-siblings and cousins was not uncommon.

3. Polygamy preferred

Although monogamy seems a given to marriage now, polygamy was common throughout history.  Although in a few cultures, one woman married multiple men, it was usually men who had a number of wives.

4. Babies optional

In many early cultures, men could dissolve a marriage or take another wife if a woman did not have children, but  it was later argued that marriage was not contingent on producing offspring.

5. Monogamy established

Monogamy became the guiding principle for Western marriages sometime between the sixth and the ninth centuries.

6. Monogamy lite

The idea of monogamy  did not always reflect the modern conception of mutual fidelity. Until the 19th century, it was deemed entirely appropriate for men to engage in extramarital affairs. By contrast, adulterous women faced serious risk and censure.

7. State or church?

Marriages in the West were originally contracts between the families of two partners, without intervention from the church or the state. Until the 1500s, the Church accepted a couple’s word that they had exchanged marriage vows, with no witnesses or corroborating evidence needed.

8. Civil marriage

In the last several hundred years, the state has played a greater role in marriage.

9. Love matches

By about 250 years ago, the notion of love matches became popular, with marriage being based on love and possibly sexual desire. Mutual attraction in marriage wasn’t important until about a century ago. I

10. Market economics

Around the world, family-arranged alliances have gradually given way to love matches in many cultures.The transition from an agricultural to a market economy, meaning couples relied less upon parental permission to ensure any land inheritance, the increased role played by women in the economy and the expansion of democracy, with its emphasis on liberty and individual choice, are all key drivers for this change.

11. Inequalities

Even until relatively recent times, women and men had unique and differing rights and responsibilities within marriage.

12. Partnership of equals

By about 50 years ago, the idea that men and women had similar obligations within marriage began to take root. Instead of being about unique, gender-based roles, most partners conceived of their unions in terms of flexible divisions of labor, companionship, and mutual sexual attraction.

13. Gay marriage

Whilst still not legal in many places in the world, gay marriage has become recognised and celebrated in many countries in recent years.