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The history of marriage

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It is widely agreed that the origin of marriage dates well before recorded history, but the earliest recorded evidence of marriage ceremonies uniting one woman and one man dates from about 2350 B.C. in the Far East. Over the next several hundred years, marriage evolved into a widespread institution embraced by various cultures.

Initially, marriage often involved multiple partners, usually female. Monogamy became the guiding principle for Western marriages sometime between the sixth and the ninth centuries, following a protracted battle between the Catholic Church and the old nobility and kings who wanted to say “I can take a second wife”. The Church prevailed, with monogamy becoming central to the notion of marriage by the ninth century.

The main purpose of marriage, earlier on, was to act as an alliance between families, for either economic or political reasons, or both. The marriage was arranged, more often than not, with the couple marrying having no say in the matter.  Even today, in some cultures and religions marriages are arranged on the same basis.

The notion of marriage as a sacrament, namely a Christian rite recognised to be of particular importance and significance, can be traced back to St. Paul. In the New Testament book of Ephesians, at Chapter 5, Paul compared the relationship of a husband and wife to that of Christ and his church:-

Verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”.

Other religions recognise the rite of marriage in various different ways. The Muslim faith allows a polygamous marriage with a man allowed as many as four wives. The Hindu faith has the profound belief in that marriage celebrates the joining together of two individuals for eternity so that they can together pursue truth, meaning and physical desire.

Today, most people recognise that regardless of how a couple enter into the marriage, it is a bond between two people that involves responsibility and legalities, as well as commitment and challenge. That concept of marriage has remained constant through the ages. The exchange of a ring, in that it has no end; represents eternity.

Marriage has adapted throughout time; in 2013, The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 enabled members of the same sex to enter into marriage. Whether a religious marriage ceremony is available or permissible, however, depends upon the individual religion.  Currently neither the Catholic Church nor the Church of England offers same sex ceremonies. Some Hindu priests and Muslim Imams have performed same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The concept of a legally-recognised relationship between two partners has now been widened to include civil partnerships in the United Kingdom. The civil partnership was granted under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which in the first instance, exclusively allowed same-sex couples to obtain essentially the same rights and responsibilities as a married couple. However, with effect from December 2019, Parliament amended the 2004 Act, enabling opposite-sex couples to register a civil partnership. This new legislation followed a high-profile case, in which an opposite-sex couple took the government to court, as they were concerned that the civil partnership option was not available to them.

Although the core principle of marriage has remained constant, the history of marriage demonstrates how it has evolved throughout time. As marriage continues to evolve, so will the law governing it.  If you find yourself in a situation where you need specialised advice on marriage or family matters, feel confident that our solicitors can support you with every step. For more information, contact the Family team at Ince in Cardiff 02920 100950 to arrange an appointment, or to have an initial conversation with an experienced family solicitor.

Sharon Priday

Sharon Priday Managing Associate

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