Weddings and marriage are so popular in today’s world that people almost never think to question why these ceremonies are so commonplace or how they even started.
A marriage ceremony of some kind is found in nearly every developed society. However, throughout history the ideas of weddings and matrimony have undertaken many different forms and involved different traditions before becoming what we know them as today.
Long before notions of love and romance, marriage – and children– were more for the purpose of securing private property.
Often, old laws would require a brother to marry his deceased brother’s widow, as he was the property holder and it was his familial duty to protect the widow, as she was not allowed to hold property of her own.
Commonly, the husband was the leader of his household, and his wife and children existed for the purpose of protecting his bloodline.
There have been many different guidelines and rules for taking a partner. For instance, in some cultures it is commonplace for the man to have taken multiple wives.
In other places, this is extremely looked down upon. Additionally, in certain societies it is encouraged to stay within one’s social group, economic class, race, or some other common demographic, where elsewhere it is more common to marry outside of one’s typical group, either in the hopes of “moving up” in society or for bonding different neighborhoods and regions.
Indeed, marriage has historically been used as a political tool, and arguably still is used as such today. Nobles of different countries or regions would enter into carefully-arranged marriages to promote the union and loyalty of the different regions.
Conversely, some royal families married and reproduced so exclusively within their own familial clan that their members were damaged genetically due to all of the inbreeding.
Marriage also held a place in religion, due to the commonly-held idea that engaging in carnal relations before being married was a sin. This is why members of the holy clergy in different regions are often forbidden to marry, and why in addition to a marriage being recognized legally, many seek out houses of worship to be wed by a religious official so that their marriage will be recognized as legitimate in the eyes of their deity and/or religious community.
Indeed, religion and politics are so intertwined with marriage, that any article about weddings cannot be considered complete without mention of King Henry VIII, who founded an entirely new religious denomination so that he was allowed to divorce as many women as he wanted.
All of these facts about marriage as legal, religious, political, or business statuses may be interesting, but it’s easy to feel a bit disillusioned with the institution since it does not seem to be truly founded on the ideals of love, romance, loyalty, and companionship.
Fortunately, human society is flexible, and the changing ideals of the common people have molded the idea of what marriage should be. These days, marriage is considered incomplete or even abusive without love and respect as its foundation.
In fact, Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, were believed to have a mutually respectful marriage even if it was not built on true love.
In addition to marriage, there are a number of other unions that partners can legally claim with their local government as alternative ways to formally, legally recognize their relationship. Some of these include civil unions and domestic partnerships.
These two are similar in that they grant a couple some of the same rights that married couples have, except that domestic partnerships are available at a city level as well as a state level. Additionally, common-law marriages, which are far less common but still technically exist in some spaces, recognize as a couple as legally married even they have not gone through the ceremony and legalities of obtaining a marriage license.
It is nearly impossible to succinctly summarize all of the different marital traditions the world has seen, especially as those traditions continue to evolve. If you’re a wedding fanatic like we are – or even if you’re a history buff – we encourage you to conduct further research on your own, and share with your friends the most interesting marriage facts you can find!