People have been performing marriage ceremonies since prehistory, but each culture had a different practice for the ceremony and for what it meant. Some believe marriage began in an effort for men to guarantee paternity of their children. Marriage is a social union and/or a legal contract. It creates legal kinship, but it can also have emotional ramifications.
Early nomadic cultures participated in something known as the beena. In this practice, the wife would own a tent of her own, giving her independence from her family and husband. This practice is still existent in some parts of Israeli culture. This transitioned to women being given a room of their own in a man’s home upon marrying. This provided women with independence, but it was really the only place in which they experienced this freedom. Women were responsible for a variety of household chores, including sewing, fetching water, and baking bread. As a matter of fact, the Book of Proverbs features a list of duties that are to be performed by a “virtuous wife.”
These early marriages also featured responsibilities for men. Men taking a second wife were to not deprive the first of food, clothing, or sexual
activity. Practitioners of this style of marriage accepted that these rules applied to men with only one wife, as well as multiple wives. In this society, there were implied punishments for adultery on either part, but the punishments were rarely enforced and adultery actually occurred with some frequency.
The Ancient Greeks initially had no specific ceremony for marriage and entered into the union merely on mutual agreement. Men would typically finish with their military service and marry in their 20s, while women typically married in their teens. This also gave a woman enough time to bear children. Married women in Greek society had few rights and tended to their homes and families. These marriages were typically based on inheritance and not romantic love. Greek culture featured several types of marriages, including the traditional marriage, which did require a ceremony, and free marriage, in which a wife remained a member of her original family, under her father’s authority.
Women began taking their husband’s names in the 12th century. During the late 1500s, parental consent became a prerequisite for marriage. Before then only church consent was required. During the Reformation, the state took control of recording and setting rules for marriage. In reaction to the reformation, the Roman Catholic church began imposing rules and adding more requirements to the marriage ceremony. For instance, marriages would only be recognized if performed by a priest with two witnesses. The Marriage Act of 1753 made it necessary for a formal ceremony to occur, eliminating clandestine marriages.
Civil marriages have been an option since the mid-1800s in England, Wales, and Germany. Civil marriages permitted a declaration of marriage before an official clerk, as opposed to a priest or church official.
Today, the laws concerning same-sex marriages are hotly debated in some cultures. Some regions permit same-sex civil unions, while others have lifted any bans on same-sex couples, permitting them to marry the same as heterosexual couples.