Tuesday, January 15, 2008

20 Types of Marriage

With the rise of the Religious Right in the last thirty years and their take on "family values", we've heard a lot about what they consider as "traditional marriage". According to conservatives, "traditional" marriage is legal, preferably sanctified by a religious ceremony, heterosexual, monogamous, patrilineal, for life, for love, with a breadwinner husband/homemaker wife, and is the foundation of a nuclear family. The assumption is that this has been the one "right" way to be married since ancient times, until threatened by the sexual revolution starting in the 1960s.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Though marriage has existed since ancient times, it has existed and continues to exist in several different ways that bear at most partial, if any, resemblance to the type of marriages that conservatives wax nostalgic about. Many of the components that are the hallmark of a so-called “traditional” marriage are relatively recent innovations, dating no further back than the mid 18th century or so.

And, according to a report released by the Census Bureau in October 2006, legally married heterosexual monogamous marriages are no longer the majority of American households, though various forms of marriage-clone relationships continue to flourish.

Though some form of marriage-type relationship has been almost universal throughout history as a vehicle for legitimizing and raising children, to determine inheritance rights, and to function as an economic unit, the matrilineal Na of China are a notable exception. Marriage does not exist in this culture, where platonic sibling relationships are more important than love or sexual relationships. Households consist of siblings living together and children that are begotten through casual sexual encounters.

Below is a list of 20 different types of marriages, with some categories commonly coexisting in the same marriage.

1. Monogamy
This the only form a legal marriage may take in Western society. Monogamy can mean marriage to only one person for a lifetime or, as is more common today, marriage to one person at a time, aka “serial monogamy”. Monogamy is usually between opposite sex couples, though same-sex monogamy is becoming legal in some states and countries.

Monogamous marriage is defined as sexually exclusive, though we must distinguish between social monogamy and biological monogamy. Society expects marriages to be both, but studies that have shown that ten percent of babies are fathered by men other than their legal fathers indicate that the two don’t always go hand in hand; that while social monogamy might be ubiquitous, biological monogamy is not.

Polygamy is when either a man or a woman can have more than one spouse concurrently, taking two forms:

2. Polygyny
Polygyny is the most common form of polygamy, which consists of one man with multiple wives. It is still practiced in some parts of the world and was once an official Mormon belief, known to them as “plural marriage”.

3. Polyandry
Much less common, this is when one woman has several husbands. It has occurred in Tibet, Mongolia, the Canadian Arctic, South America, Nepal, Bhutan, among other places. Polyandry is especially suited to populations that have more males than females which is perhaps why it is less common than polygyny, because females outnumber males in most societies. Because of laws limiting Chinese couples to one child only, combined with the traditional Chinese preference for male children has created an unnaturally lopsided sex ratio of males to females, polyandry could be a useful strategy in China in the future to rebalance the sex ratio there.

4. Polyamory
Polyamory is when both men and women may have more than one sex/relational partner. It is currently not a legally recognized form of marriage anywhere, but is rather a de facto type of marriage. The emphasis is on loving more than one person at a time, more so than the sex, per se. Polyamorous relationships take various forms: a primary core couple who each have other relationships with same or other sex partners separately, where the additional partners have a relationship with both partners in a core couple, and so on. Polyamory is uniquely suited to bisexuals, as it allows them to express both sides of their sexuality in committed relationships.

5. Polyfidelity
A form of Polyamory restricted to a specific group of people that all members must agree to. It could be viewed as “expanded monogamy.”

6. Same sex marriage
Most people advocating for same sex marriage only wish to have the current form of legal monogamous marriage expanded to include homosexual couples. However, some gays and lesbians are polyamorous.

7. Open marriage -- swinging
Open marriage is when couples in legal, monogamous marriages both agree that each may have outside lovers. Each spouse has their own lovers, whom they may or may not also love. Swinging is similar to open marriage, but usually refers to when the couple engages in extramarital sex together as a couple at organized events. Swingers are usually emotionally monogamous, unlike polyamorous people.

8. Common law marriage
This is the oldest form of marriage that predates religion and the state, which is still in existence today. Common law marriages are recognized by the state in some places; long-time common law couples are required to get legal divorces like legally married couples in such places. Common law marriages are nearly always monogamous. In places where common law marriages are not legally recognized, such relationships are known as “cohabitation”.

9. Group marriage
A form of polyamory in which there is no primary core couple; rather each member is equally married to all other members.

10. Boston marriage
A term used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to refer to two women who lived together in a long term relationship which was presumably sexual, but not necessarily so, and interacted in public as a couple rather than as roommates.

11. Levirate marriage
A form of marriage in which a woman marries one of her husband’s brothers after the husband’s death. It was practiced in ancient societies that believed in endogamous marriage.

12. Sororate marriage
A marriage in which a man marries his wife's sister, usually after the wife is dead or has proved infertile. This has been practiced in Africa and in the Canadian Arctic.

13. Endogamy

This is the practice of limiting marriages within certain social groups, ethnicities, or classes. The Amish are an example of a group that practices endogamy. Endogamy is also known as Homogamy.

14. Exogamy

The opposite of endogamy; marriage outside a social group, clan, class, and so on. Laws against marrying blood relatives are an example of one type of exogamy.

15. "Mixed" marriage
Marriage between people belonging to different religions, tribes, races, nationalities or ethnic backgrounds. This term has fallen into disuse, as it can be offensive to modern sensibilities, with "exogamous" being the preferred, neutral term.

16. Arranged marriage
Once very common and still practiced in some cultures, an arranged marriage is one where the spouses are chosen by someone other than the couple getting married, and is entered into for practical reasons, not love. Those involved in arranging marriages for others include parents, professional matchmakers, friends, religious leaders, or some other third party.

17. Egalitarian marriage

A monogamous, mixed-sex marriage where husband and wife consider one another equal partners in the marriage. Usually the partners in such marriages also do not live according to traditional sex roles, but egalitarianism can also be found in male breadwinner/female homemaker marriages.

18. Complementarian marriage
A marriage where the man is the "head of the house", where the wife is expected to "graciously submit". Though the wife may work outside the home in such marriages, traditional sex roles are considered the ideal to people who believe in this type of marriage.

19. Covenant marriage
Legal in some areas of the US, a covenant marriage is one where the couple agrees to seek pre-marital counseling and accepts more limited grounds for divorce. In a covenant marriage, the only grounds for divorce are adultery, abuse, and one spouse being convicted of a felony with jail time. There is a movement of some fundamentalist Christians who want this type of marriage offered in all 50 states.

20. After Death Marriage
Permitted in France, a living person can marry a dead person of the opposite sex after the individual has died.


Cindi/Epona'Bri said...

Great article. Too bad those who need to learn this will never believe it.

D.K. said...

After death marriage? Now that's unique!

May said...

Polyfidelity Hola!


africa girl said...

This one is very interesting! I never knew that there are 20 types of marriage! Thanks for sharing this one! The most unique one is the after death marriage!

Anonymous said...

20 types of marriage, except when you break it down, its really 3-4 types, and 16 are redundant. (Marriage across racial lines between a man a woman is still normal, heterosexual marriage.) Many aren't even marriage - they're called free love. Restraining it to a limited group doesn't somehow legitimize it.

You left some out - Monogamapatyoungery: Where the husband marries a wife who must be younger than him; and Monogamamatyounger: where the wife marries a husband younger than her. The variations are endless. This is just another sideways attempt to discredit traditional marriage and encourage acceptance of gay/alternative marriage. Incredibly stupid article that extrapolates beyond the limits of rhetoric.

Curtis and Amy Updike Family said...

I totally agree...completely redundant and twists the point.

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AshleeTierney said...

Actually, this post is solely just to dis-credit the argument that traditional marriage is between one man and one woman. I don't believe this article is either promoting or arguing against gay marriage. It is just informing us of 20 different types of marriage that have been performed. Sorry that some of you can't understand that there is more than just one type of marriage. It's sad. On another topic I was really interested by the levirate/sororate marriages. Interesting!

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