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Marriage Traditions in
Various Times and Cultures

by Demian
© July 7, 2011, Demian

One reason often given to justify the denial of legal marriage to same-sex couples is the precedent of tradition. This is not a legal argument. Nor does it a justify withholding rights from a select group of citizens.

Standing on tradition is a purely emotional tactic. However, it depends on a common understanding of “tradition” — and the presumption that it has meant the same thing throughout history. Upon closer examination, this idea is entirely fallacious. The form that marriage has taken has always changed depending on the culture, religion, politics, and period of history.

In the U.S. today, and through much of the world, legal marriage is a relationship between three parties — the two individuals plus the state.

Ceremonial marriage, often called a “wedding,” is quite distinct from legal marriage and is a relationship, not with the state, but between the couple, their religion and usually their familial and social circle.

While many opposite-sex couples engage in both legal and ceremonial marriage, these two forms of marriage are entirely distinct — legally and functionally — under the United States’ Constitutional separation of church and state.


Through the centuries, the concept of marriage has radically changed. In Biblical times, having more than one wife was common. During the nineteenth century, polygamy also was practiced by Mormons in the United States. Some Mormon sects continue to do so to this day. It is also practiced in some Islamic cultures. Polygamy has been observed in the Eskimos, the peoples of the Kalahari Desert, the Kaggirs, the Ashanti, the New Guineans, and the Australian aborigines.

Polyandry — more than one husband — was practiced in Central Asia, especially in Tibet, Sri Lanka, and southern India.

Although polygamous marriages are not encouraged or recognized in most modern societies, polygamous behaviour remains common. It survives through the use of mistresses and concubines, who are openly or secretly supported by wealthy males. In some cases the male may have a second family (or families with an unofficial wife (or wives), supporting her (or them) and his children. In some places the wife not only is aware of the husband’s mistress, but helps him to select one that is “suitable” to his station.

Monogamy is practised most often among those those social structures that are based on the Greco-Roman tradition and Christian religion. Many cultures, for social and economic reasons, usually limited marriage to one wife. Among those who practice monogyny are the pygmies of the Congo basin and those of Asia, the Adamanese islanders, the Aeta of the Philippines, the Kubu of Sumatra, the Semang of Malaya, and the Tuareg nomads of the Sahara Desert.

During second-century Rome, marriage contracts between two men of the same age were permitted.

The Catholic Church did not get involved in marriage ceremonies until the Middle Ages.

The Dutch made civil marriage the law of the land in 1590.

England passed the Marriage Act, in 1753, which wrested control of marriage from individuals and the church, and created a legal entity. English marriages that did not not take place in the Church of England, or in a synagogue, were rendered invalid. A subsequent marriage act, in 1836, allowed marriage to be a civil action, entered into by mutual consent, which did not require a religious ceremony.

The American colonies provided a mixture of civil and religious marriage ceremonies. Common law marriages were allowed. In the nineteenth century, members of the Oneida Community, in New York, practiced “complex marriage.” Adult members of the community were married to all other adult members of the community, with the group regulating sexual contact.

Interracial marriages in the United States were prohibited in 12 states until 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Loving v. Virginia, that “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness.”

Historically, the form marriage takes has varied widely in both law and custom. The following chart further suggests the scope of that diversity:

Historical Marriage Forms
Bible Passages on Marriage
Ancient China
Ancient Europe
Bavaria and Austria
Early American Colonies
United States Law
United States Culture
Ancient Briton
Ancient West Germany

    Azande (now Sudan)
    Hutu and Tutsi Tribes
    Kikuyu (Kenya)
    Kisii district (sw Kenya)
    Masai tribe
    Mugawe (Kenyan Meru)
    Nigeria - Maguzawa
    Nigeria - Ibos (Igbo)
    South Africa

Ancient Greece
Some Greek Societies
Ancient Egypt
Albanians, Montenegrins in Eastern Europe
Ancient Rome
Ye Olde England
Native American - North American tribes
Siberian Chuckchee
Tahitian Mmahus
Saudi Arabia
Current Global Treatment of Same-sex Couples

Culture Marriage Format
Mesopotamia • Sumerian marital law of about 4,600 years ago, permitted a king to have sex with a bride before their husbands were allowed. This was depicted in translations of the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” the worlds oldest epic poem.

• In early Sumerian times — before 2,400 BCE — a woman of wealth was able to engage in the custom of polyandry, sometimes taking more than one husband.

• Polyandry was banned around 2,400 BCE when the ruler Urukagina declared “If a woman takes a second husband, her teeth should be bashed with bricks.” The law allowed the punishment of being stoned with rocks upon which her crime was written.

Bible • Polygamy, that is simultaneously being married to more than one woman, was common for many men featured in the Bible:

Abraham, the first Jew, took a concubine, Hagar, for the express purpose of continuing his blood line, since his wife, Sarai, was barren at the time.

Patriarch Jacob’s two wives, Rachel and Leah, plus two concubines, and produced the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel.

King Solomon had seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:3).

King David, who had at least seven wives, committed adultery with Bathsheba, then had her husband killed, and married her himself.

Interestingly, the Biblical multiple wives do not seem to be simply lovers or property, but full marital partners:

“If [a man] take himself another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish” (Exodus 21:10).
“Neither can a husband withhold inheritance from the children of an unloved plural wife” (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).
• In modern Europe, polygamy disappeared from Jewish domestic life, while among Christians it remained a tolerated privilege of royalty until very late times.

• In the book of Deuteronomy, Israelites were forbidden to marry the Hittites, Canaanites and Girgashites. This has often been used to support contemporary bans on interracial or intercultural marriages.

Bible Passages on Marriage • “Marriage shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women.”
       — Genesis 29:17-28

• “Marriage shall not impede a man’s right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives.”
       — II Samuel 5:13 and II Chronicles 11:13

• “Marriage between a believer and non-believer is forbidden.”
       — Genesis 24:3

• “Since there is no law that can change things, divorce is not possible.”
       — Genesis 38:6-10

• “Marriage is considered valid only if the the wife is a virgin. If she is not a virgin, she shall be executed.”
       — Deuteronomy 22:13

• “They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.”
       — Deuteronomy 22:19

• “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”
       — Deuteronomy 22:28

• “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”
       — Deuteronomy 24:1

• “If a married man dies, his brother must marry his sister-in-law.”
       — Deuteronomy 25:5-10

• “They must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced from their husbands, because priests are holy to their God.”
       — Leviticus 21:7

• “The woman he marries must be a virgin. He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people, so he will not defile his offspring among his people.”
       — Leviticus 21:13

• “But if a priest’s daughter becomes a widow or is divorced, yet has no children, and she returns to live in her father’s house as in her youth, she may eat of her father’s food. No unauthorized person, however, may eat any of it.”
       — Leviticus 22:13

• “Any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her.”
       — Numbers 30:9

• “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”
       — Matthew 5:32

• “Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because you hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ ”
       — Matthew 19:8

• “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
       — Luke 16:18

• “When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
       — Mark 10:10-12

Koran • The number of legitimate wives is limited to four.
Christian • Marriages were first offered only to male couples — subsequently, they were offered to opposite-sex couples.

• During the 1st century AD, Roman marriage changed from a procreative duty into a choice. Marriage required female consent, and the role of “wife” took on as much dignity as that of “friend.” But “love” isn’t necessary for marriage.

• The 1st century also glorified virginity, deemed sexual connection foul, and homosexuality was punished by death.

• During the 2nd-3rd centuries, Christians stressed morality and encouraged husbands and wives to unite chastely under God. Intercourse was to be passionless, and, as Clement of Alexandria stressed, should occur only after supper. Daylight hours should be devoted to studies or prayer:

“He who too ardently loves his own wife is an adulterer.”
• Western culture did not view monogamy as essential to marriage until Modestinus, a 14th century, non-Christian Roman lawyer, who defined the institution for the Roman Empire:
“Marriage is a union of a man and a woman and a communion of the whole of life, a participation in divine and human law.”
• Marriage for Roman Catholic Priests

For the first three centuries of the Roman Catholic Church, sexual conduct was left up to the individual priests. No one expected a priest to be celibate unless he so desired.

In the fourth century, church councils began recommending — though not demanding — that clerics abstain from sex. In 325, the Council of Nicea forbade priests to marry after ordination. It left up to the priest and their wives, or concubines, to decide about their sex lives.

It was not until the fifth century that celibacy was demanded of priests, though it was not always followed. Throughout the Middle Ages, the celibacy law was debated and disregarded. It was not until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, that priestly marriage began to decline.

Besides the human need for love and companionship, one reason for priestly marriage was that it ensured succession of the priesthood to their sons. It made social sense as a means of apprenticeship and for the passing on of wealth.

It was not until 1920 that pope Benedict XV codified law that clerics were not to marry, and, therefore, not have sex.

• During the 3rd Century, — 270 A.C.E. to be precise — Emperor Claudius II Gothicus (268-270) outlawed marriage and ordered all engagements broken. He had been conducting many bloody and unpopular military campaigns. Men were not readily joining the Roman Legions, which Claudius thought was due to the men being unwilling to leave their wives and families.

One of the many legends surrounding a Catholic priest (some say Bishop) named Valentine, was his secretly performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers and their beloved. For his violation of the anti-marital law, Valentine was clubbed, stoned and beheaded.

Claudius II also beheaded a second man named Valentine. St. Valentine’s Day most likely evolved from Lupercalia, a Roman festival of fertility, honoring the God Lupercus, held on February 15. One of the traditions associated with this feast was young men drawing the names of young women whom they would court during the following year, a custom that may have grown into the giving of valentine’s cards.

• In 385, Jovian, a maverick monk, is excommunicated on the grounds of heresy and blasphemy for calling marriage superior to celibacy.

• From the 5th to the 14th centuries, Roman Catholic Church marriages were merely ceremonies, not sacraments. The Church did not make them sacraments until 1215.

• In the 6th century, Emperor Justinian makes adultery a capital offense and divorce nearly impossible.

• Pope Alexander II issued a decree, in 1076, prohibiting marriages between couples who were more closely related than 6th cousins.

Ancient China • In China, especially in the southern province of Fujian, where male love was especially cultivated, men would marry youths in elaborate ceremonies. The marriages often lasted a number of years, at the end of which the elder partner would help the younger find a female wife for raising children.

• The Na society of China, existed for thousands of years without marriage.

• When two families wished to make an alliance, but did not have an eligible daughter or son still alive, marriages were arranged between one child and the un-married ghost of another.

Ancient Europe • In early medieval times, marriage was not available to all people, only to those who could set up a household and transmit property.

• During the medieval period, marriages were designed to be part of the deals of an estate exchange, bride-price, morning gift and dowries — not love. No ceremonies or celebrations were performed until after the couple had sexual intercourse.

• For centuries, before the Council of Trent in the 16th century, marriage began and was consummated with a sometimes secret betrothal. When a couple would pledge to marry, the public wedding would follow, often during the pregnancy or after the birth of a child. Fertility was so important in marriage that there would very seldom be a wedding without a child on the way.

India • For the Mysorian Lambadis of Southern India, except for the Brahman priest, no males were allowed at the wedding ceremony — not even the groom.

• Dowries are as old as India, but in recent years, the bride’s parents are expected to give large amounts of cash and gifts such as televisions, cars and refrigerators. When they do not, the brides are frequently punished. The police have reported that, in 1998, brides are often harassed or beaten, and that a husband, or in-law, burns a bride to death every two hours. It has also been reported that an estimated 25,000 brides are killed or maimed every year in India over dowry disputes.

• On July 1, 2005, the BBC reported that an Islamic village council in Lucknow ordered a woman to marry her father-in-law following his raping her. The council claimed that the rape annulled her marriage, and that she should treat her husband as if he were her son. The father-in-law had been arrested and was in jail. The report did not say how the clerics wanted her to treat her five children.

Bavaria and
• Servants and day laborers were not allowed to marry, in the 16th century, unless they had the permission of local political authorities. This law was finally abolished in Austria in 1921.
American Colonies
• The first marriage in New England, that of Edward Winslow to the widow Susannah White, was performed on May 12, 1621, in Plymouth by Governor William Bradford, in exercise of his office as magistrate.

There were no clergyman in Plymouth until Rev. Ralph Smith arrived in 1629, however, marriage continued to be a civil affair. The first Puritans opposed the English custom of clerical marriage as being unscriptural.

• The Pilgrims outlawed courtship of a daughter or a female servant unless her parents or master first consented.

• In about 1625, Englishman Thomas Morton established “Merry Mount,” a plantation where whites and Native Americans openly engaged in sexual relations. Puritan Pilgrims, who believe only in marital sexuality, deport him three years later for reviving the erotic pagan May Day festival.

• In 1638, Massachusetts law required that every town “dispose of all single persons” At about the same time, Connecticut taxed bachelors 20 shillings a week.

• There was no penalty for interracial marriages in any of the British colonies in North America until 1662. That year, Virginia doubled the fine for fornication between interracial couples.

Maryland became the first colony to ban interracial marriages in 1664.

In 1691, Virginia law banished whites who marry or have sex with a “Negro, mulatto or Indian.” By 1705 the punishment had been upped to six months imprisonment and a 10-pound fine.

By 1750, all southern colonies, plus Massachusetts and Pennsylvania outlawed interracial marriages.

• For the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay, marriage was strictly a civil and not an ecclesiastical ceremony until 1686.

• When Plymouth Colony merged with Massachusetts Bay in 1692, the clergy were authorized by the new province to solemnize marriages. To this day, Massachusetts clergy, including those of the archdiocese, solemnize marriage only as agents of the Commonwealth, and only by the state’s civil authority.

• During the 1700s, in colonies such as Virginia, the government continued a preference for Anglican marriages by requiring special licenses for ministers of other religions.

• Under English common law, until the middle of the 19th century, married women had no legal standing. They could not own property, sign contracts, or legally control any earned wages.

United States Law • The United States of America was three distinctly different forms of marriage: the first two are a civil, legal status — the third is a religious or social status. While all are called “marriage,” there are very big differences between them.

Legal Marriage

A legal marriage license triggers 150-to-250 laws in every U.S. state.
      [See our articles on these laws:
       Alaska | California | Hawaii | New York | Vermont | Washington]

A legal marriage license triggers more than 1,138 Federal laws.
      [See: U.S. Federal Laws for the Legally Married.]

Common-law Marriage
A common-law marriage, only available in certain states, is realized when a man and a woman present themselves as husband and wife for a requisite number of years. The relationship is able to have many of the same rights and responsibilities as one that had a legal marriage license.
      [See: Common Law States.]
Ceremonial Marriage
The religious form of marriage is merely ceremonial and does not activate any legal status unless the couple also signs a marriage license.
• Throughout most of the 19th century, the minimum age of consent for sexual intercourse in most states was 10 years old. In Delaware it was seven.

Twelve states, as late as 1930, allowed boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 12 to marry with parental consent.

• In early America, “hand-fast” marriages occurred in a number of colonies. They were not done in church, but involved promises between the man and woman, followed by sexual relations. If the woman did not become pregnant within a year, the couple could call the whole thing off. If she did become pregnant, the relationship would automatically become a full-fledged marriage.

• On the frontier it was sometimes difficult to find a minister or judge to perform a ceremony. Couples therefore would engage in an informal ceremony, followed by an official marriage when they were able to locate a churchman or judicial representative. In many colonies, and later in many states, the marriage was treated as valid from the first exchange of promises.

• Slaves, could not marry. Nor could indentured servants in many states. Some places prohibited or penalized interfaith marriages.

• In the early 19th century, there was little or no record-keeping of marriage, there was no centralized records, and couples moved around a good deal. If a couple held themselves to be married, that’s the way they were treated.

• “Public Vows” author Nancy Cott observes that in most Native American groups, “heterosexual couples were important, but they married within complex kinship systems that accepted premarital sex, expected wives to be economic actors, often embraced matrilocal residence and matrilineal descent, and easily allowed both polygamy and divorce with remarriage.”
      [See the “Native American - Various North American Tribes” section below.]

• New York became the first state, in 1848, to pass a Married Woman’s Property Act, guaranteeing the right of married women to own property.

• The Oregon legislature barred marriages between white people and anyone more than one-quarter black in 1859, just three years after statehood. (It also imposed a $5 tax on black, Chinese, Hawaiian and “mulatto” people.) A few years later, the legislature extended the ban to marriage between whites and “any Negro, Chinese, or any person having one fourth or more Negro, Chinese, or Kanaka (native Hawaiian) blood, or any person having more than one-half Indian blood.” No other state referenced Kanakas, and Nevada was the only other state to mention Chinese.

• Married women were not allowed to make a legal contracts in twelve states until 1940.

• The sale of birth control devices to married couples was forbidden until 1965. In the early half of the 1900s contraception was charged with “perversion of natural function,” “immorality” and “fostering egotism and enervating self-indulgence.” The same false charges have been leveled against gay men and lesbians today.

• Interracial marriage was forbidden and punishable by prison in 13 states until 1967. U.S. Supreme Court overturned those laws in Loving v. Virginia.

• Unable to find any law prohibiting same-sex marriage, a county clerk in Boulder, Colorado, issues a legal marriage license to Dave Zamora and Ave McCord in 1975. Five more same-sex couples are also issued licenses. The legal marriages were soon annulled by the state.

• Many states once denied epileptics marriage licenses out of fear that they would pass their disability on to their children. Those laws weren’t wiped out completely until 1976.

• New York became the first state, in 1978, to outlaw rape in marriage. By 1990, only a total of ten states outlawed rape in marriage. In 36 states, rape in marriage was a crime only in certain circumstances. In four states, rape in marriage was never a crime.

• Most states make it a crime to marry couples without government licenses, making even purely religious marriages a potential crime. New York Unitarian Universalist ministers Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey were criminally charged in March 2004 for officiating at weddings for same-sex couples who could not get marriage licenses. When New Paltz, New York mayor Jason West married couples in March 2004, he was criminally charged. Governments will prevent a religion or civic group from performing a marriage, even if the marriage would have no legal effect without a marriage license.

• Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to offer legal marriage for same-sex couples on May 17, 2004.
      [Please see: Massachusetts Offers Legal Marriage]

United States Culture • The early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) advocated one husband having many wives. This practice, starting in the 1820s, was forced underground by the U.S. Government in 1890. Presently, the official line is that men may marry only one woman at a time. Curiously, this is the same church that since 1998 has spent millions of dollars politicking against same-sex marriage.

• Rice is often thrown at newlyweds following a ceremony as a symbol of luck and fertility. In recent years, in efforts to be more ecologically sound, many have substituted birdseed when thrown outdoors. This is because birds cannot digest uncooked rice, which they would otherwise eat.

• The 18th Article of the Baptist Faith and Message from the Southern Baptist Convention, June 1998:

“A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”
• In the United States during the nineteenth century, there was recognition of the relationship of two women making a long-term commitment to each other and cohabiting, referred to at the time as a Boston marriage; however, the general public at the time likely assumed that sexual activities were not part of the relationship.
Persia • Couples announced their marriage intentions in public by dramatically cutting their arms and drinking each other’s blood.

• Virgin brides-to-be were married before burial. The corpse’s spouse received a fee.

Ancient Briton • Bread is broken over the marriage couple for luck and fertility.

• The women married in their finest dresses, but the groom wed “sky clad” — that is, naked.

West Germany
• If a spouse in 18th century Frankish society committed adultery, a partner could legally separate, but neither party could remarry during their lifetimes.
Tibet • Newlyweds are splashed with yak grease for luck and fertility.
Azande in what is now Sudan

• Military men among the Azande had “boy wives.” The relationship was considered a marriage both legally and culturally. The warrior paid a bride-price of five spears or more to the parents of his boy and performed services for them, just as he would have done had he married their daughter. These marriages were understood to be temporary.

• Among the Nuer people of the Sudan, sterile women were permitted to marry other women, who were allowed to be visited, at night, by male lovers.

• When two families wished to make an alliance, but did not have an eligible daughter or son still alive, marriages were arranged between one child and the un-married ghost of another.

Hutu and Tutsi Tribes of East Africa

• Premarital sex is forbidden. However, once wed, a woman could have sex with whomever she wished.

Kikuyu in Kenya

• Under Kikuyu customary law, where a husband dies leaving a childless widow, who is past child-bearing age, the widow may marry a wife. The widow pays a dowry — called “ruracio” — to the family of the woman selected, and arranges for a man from the deceased husband’s age-set to be with her. The resulting children are regarded as those of the widow’s husband.

Kisii district, southwestern Kenya

• The Kisii people permit a sonless, post-menopausal widow to marry a young woman for the purposes of producing an heir, since women have no inheritance rights and cannot continue the family line. According to Kisii custom, the older woman is the dominant partner and generally dictates who should father the potential heirs to be borne by her wife.

Masai tribe of East Africa

• Grooms are required to wear their wives’ clothing for one month following the marriage, to give him insight into her life.

Mugawe of the Kenyan Meru

• The Mugawe had “berdaches” who married people of the same sex and those marriages were culturally and legally recognized.

Nigeria - Ibos (Igbo)

• In the past, a bride spent most of her engagement in a fattening house. If she wasn’t plump enough, the groom could reject her.

• Polygyny is encouraged and accepted, however, monogamous marriages greatly outnumber polygynous ones. Fathers accept responsibility for all his wife’s children throughout his life. The choice of a wife, and recognition of marriage, is an important matter for the community.

• The union between a man and a woman for the duration of the woman’s life, is normally the gist of a wider association between two families, or sets of families. It is regarded as a milestone in the life of a man and a woman, which will enable them to immortalize their remembrance through their children. They regard consent as the most important element.

• Since families are closely knit, courtship is not a private affair. The family of the young man repeatedly invites the young woman to stay a week or so with them. During this time, they are able to observe each other.

• Traditionally, the position of a wife in her husband’s family remains shaky and unpredictable until she begets a child. Security is obtained after the birth, specifically, of a male child. Then she is specially welcome as a responsible housewife in her husbands extended family and Umunna. The birth of a child gives her the title of “wife.” Before this time, she may be said to be a wife only in anticipation. Commonly, a sterile woman is made the object of conversation and ridicule by some of her female neighbors. If a quarrel arises, her women rivals would call her “Mgbaliga,” “Nwanyi-iga” (literally the sterile woman, the barren one) sterile monster who has her maternal organs for mere decoration.

• The average marital age for men is 25-28, for woman 14-18. While the young man may make the choice of a wife, sometimes a father will make the selection. The father, mother, or guardian pays the bride wealth for him. Usually he trusts their selection because it is commonly accepted that the older people are more sober in choosing a marriage partner. Usually all marriages begin as monogamy, but many end up as polygamous. This is because the young man may take more wives according to his means and the circumstances.

• If a man dies without a son, one of his daughters selects men with whom she begets children on behalf of her dead father This institution existed among the Western Igbo where it was called “Idegbe,” and among the Edo-Speaking people who called it “Arewa” or “Arhewa.” The children are successors to her father’s property. Among the Lele of the Kasai, such a woman is said to be called “wife of the village.”

Nigeria - Maguzawa

• In the days before the Arabs, who brought Islam, and the British colonialists, who were followed by Christian missionaries — in parts of the north — prominent men kept harems of what were termed in Hausa “dan daudu,” meaning “men who are wives of men,” to demonstrate that they were truly rich. Among the Maguzawa, the non-Muslim Hausa of Nigeria, gender variant, homo-erotically inclined men comprise much of the male membership of the bori cult. This spiritual tradition involved a divine being or spirit called bori or iska.

South Africa

• Law passed by South Africa’s Parliament in the fall of 1999, allowed recognition of tribal marriages. In many rural villages and black townships, tribal marriage laws make women the wards of their husbands. Wives are denied all property rights and lose all marital assets and custody of their children in cases of divorced. Additionally husbands are allowed to take second wives without their first wives’ permission.

However, women are now entitled to equal rights under the country’s new constitution. Women married in tribal ceremonies are, theoretically, now allowed to own property and are entitled to half of the marital assets if they should divorce. Husbands retain their right to take second wives, but only after their first wives’ rights to marital assets has been formally agreed upon.

It is widely thought that the laws will take many years to make a significant impact on women’s rights. It is also thought that outlawing polygamous marriages would have been more hurtful than harmful because, for many women in rural areas, polygamous marriages are their only hope of access to resources such as housing and water.

Wodaabe nomads of Niger

• With any marriage not arranged by parents — if both partners agree — the husband could abduct the bride and slaughter a sheep to celebrate the marriage. In addition to a man’s first wife (a cousin of the same lineage) betrothed at birth, a man may take up to three more wives. Each sets up a shelter, with the first wife occupying the northernmost position and later wives located progressively southward. Women perform most of the household labor, such as taking care of the family, milking the cows, hauling water, gather and ignite the firewood, pound millet, and bring prestige to their husbands. The men who only tend cattle, and are often eager to acquire a second, third or fourth wife to help with the chores. During daylight, a man may not hold his wife’s hand in public, call her by name, or speak to her in a personal way. Parents may not talk directly to their first- and second-born children, or refer to them by name.


• Traditionally, rich and influential Zulu woman may marry another woman by giving marriage cattle for her. She becomes the “father” of her wife’s children begotten by a male kinsman of the female “husband.”

Ancient Greece • Greek men celebrated homosexuality, ideally as elder-to-younger lovers.

• In Hellenic Greece, the common pederastic relationships between Greek men (erastes) and youths (eromenos) who had come of age were analogous to marriage in several aspects. The age of the youth was similar to the age at which women married (the mid-teens), and the relationship could only be undertaken with the consent of the father. This consent, just as in the case of a daughter’s marriage, was contingent on the suitor’s social standing. The relationship, just like a marriage, consisted of very specific social and religious responsibilities, and also had a sexual component.

• In 385 BC, Plato wrote in his Symposium 2:

“And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonor and emulating one another in honor; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. … The veriest coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the bravest, at such a time; Love would inspire him.”
• Men married women to run their household. This was a business deal, and rarely done for love.
Some Greek
• According to an old Athenian law, daughters could not be heirs. Property, like the family name, went with the sons. If there were no sons, the daughters were required to marry her closest relative.

• Until modern times, most cultures only allowed men to instigate a divorce. Here, a divorced man was banned from remarrying a woman younger than his ex-wife.

Ancient Egypt • In 323 BC, Egyptian husbands were required to pay a fine to their first wife if they wished to marry a second one.

• Boys usually married in their late teens: those from wealthy households after they finished school; other boys, as soon as they learned their father’s trade. Girls learned household skills and usually got married at about 14, and sometimes as young as nine.

• To keep the power of the throne, the royal princes and pharaohs sometimes married their own sisters or daughters.

Albanians and
in Eastern Europe
• In the middle ages, these women were allowed to divorce only if they became “sworn virgins.” They could never have sexual relations, under penalty of death. They dressed, drunk, smoked and acted as men the rest of their lives.
France • In the Marche district of Medieval France, the bride-to-be had sex with every man she encountered on the way to church.

• Newly married couples, in the 16th century, were required to stand outdoors in the nude. Grooms kissed the big toe of a bride’s left foot to ensure fertility.

Ancient Rome • Divorce was introduced in the 2nd century BCE and was easy to obtain. No one needed to prove grounds. The legal age for women to marry was 12, although 14 was more common.

• During the Pax Romana, there was a decline in the number of children, especially among the upper classes. To counter this, imperial laws were institutes requiring parents to raise more children, but the birthrate still dropped. The Romans practiced infanticide, contraception, and abortion in order to limit the number of children.

• The early Romans married for duty, specifically to preserve family lines and replenish the citizenry. Fathers decided who wed whom. Until Augustus decreed that engaged girls be at least 10, some Roman daughters, including his own, were betrothed in infancy. Teenage boys, like their fathers, could have their way with prostitutes or slaves of either sex. But first-time brides were expected to be virgins. One of Julius Caesar’s wives likely passed the test as she was 11 years old.

• Few people, ancient or modern, made a bigger mess of family life than did the “family-values” leader of Rome, Augustus. He ditched his first wife, Scribonia, because of her “moral perversity,” namely her contempt for his mistress. A year later, he fell for Livia, who happened to be six months pregnant and married to another man. Three days after the baby arrived, Augustus and Livia wed. Livia’s freshly divorced husband, posing as her father, obligingly gave her away. Livia kept Augustus content by sending slave girls to his chamber, and looking the other way as he dallied with politicians’ wives. The emperor ultimately lauded his marriage as 51 years of happiness.

Augustus’ only child, Julia, was born just before he divorced her mother, Scribonia. As a newborn, she was betrothed to a son of her father’s ally, Mark Antony. When Mark became an enemy, Augustus had him killed. When she was 14, Augustus wed her to his nephew Marcellus, who died two years later. She then married another cousin’s husband, Agrippa, and consequently gave Augustus four grandchildren. When Agrippa died, Augustus matched Julia with Livia’s son Tiberius, even though Tiberius was happily married to someone else.

• In ancient Rome, the Emperor Nero is reported to have married, at different times, two other men in wedding ceremonies. Other Roman Emperors, including Diocletian, are reported to have done the same thing.

• A marriage could not be made until an animal was sacrificed and its organs examined for good or bad omens. The legal marriage age for girls was 12.

• Ancient Rome also had two types of marriage. One was called “marriage with manus,” (roughly, “hand-in-hand marriage.”) In this form of union, the woman left her father’s family and come under the legal power of her husband or her husband’s father. Marriage with manus entailed a special ceremony and was not easy to dissolve.

The other basic form of Roman marriage was called “marriage without manus.” This was equally valid from a legal standpoint, but the woman remained as a member of her father’s family and upon his death became a fully independent legal person. Marriage without manus was relatively easy to create and to dissolve, however, it was a full marriage that entailed rights and responsibilities between the parties.

Over the centuries, marriage without manus became increasingly popular, particularly because Roman women valued their independence.

• Western culture did not view monogamy as essential to marriage until Modestinus, a fourth-century non-Christian Roman lawyer, who defined the institution for the Roman Empire:

“Marriage is a union of a man and a woman and a communion of the whole of life, a participation in divine and human law.”
Ye Olde England • A woman who didn’t want to marry, let the man know by serving him walnuts for dessert.

• In the 6th century, marriage between blood relatives was outlawed.

• “Wife sale” was common in rural and small town England, from the 1690s to the 1870s. To divorce his wife, a husband was allowed to present her with a rope around her neck in public sale to another man.

• From the 16th through mid-18th centuries, English law and the Anglican Church recognized formal in-church marriage, and two types of informal marriages not performed in church.

One type of informal marriage occurred when the man and woman promised each other that they would be married from that moment on. The second involved mutual promises to be husband and wife at a future time, which allowed the couple to have sexual intercourse. Later, when the couple engaged in a formal marriage ceremony, sexual consummation was not required to validate the union.

• Under English common law, and in all her colonies and territories, until the middle of the 19th century, married women were assets, not people, and had no legal standing. They could not own property, sign contracts, bring lawsuits, or legally control earned wages. In British law, a 1765 statement by Lord Blackstone read, “In law husband and wife are one person, and the husband is that person.”

• England passed the Marriage Act, in 1753, which wrested control of marriage from individuals and the church, and created a legal entity. English marriages that did not not take place in the Church of England, or in a synagogue, were rendered invalid. Unless you were married by the Church, your marriage was illegitimate, and so were any children that were produced in that marriage.

• When marriage “reform” was legislated in the Declaration of Rights in 1776, the government still limited recognition of marriages to those couples who were married by Anglican ministers. In colonies such as Virginia, the government continued this preference for Anglican marriages by requiring special licenses for ministers of other religions.

• Not until 1836, with a subsequent marriage act, was marriage allowed to be a civil action, entered into by mutual consent, which did not require a religious ceremony.

Brazil • Magalhaes’s The Histories of Brazil (1576) described those in the Northeast who give up the duties of women and imitate men. Each had a woman to serve her, to whom she was said to be married; they treated each other as man and wife.

• In present day Brazil, polygamy and polyandry are common among the Zoé tribe of Warrior Island. There is no sign of jealousy or rivalry between men sharing a wife or wives sharing a husband. And, according to “The Marrying Tribe of the Amazon” film documentary, the system works well and benefits the children.

Native American
- Various North
American Tribes
Same-sex marriage has been documented in many societies that were not subject to Christian influence. Among many Native American societies in North America, it took the form of two-spirit type relationships, in which some male members of the tribe, from an early age, heeded a calling to take on female gender with all its responsibilities.

Anthropologists have observed two-spirit men in 133 North American societies, and women in almost half that number.

The male two-spirit people were prized as “wives” by the other men in the tribe, who entered into formal marriages with these two-spirit men, which was recognized by many Native American laws and cultures. These men were also often respected as being especially powerful shamans or healers.

Two-spirited individuals usually perform specific social functions in their communities. In some tribes, male two-spirit people had specific roles which may include:

  • Gravediggers, undertakers, handling and burying of the deceased (Bankalachi, Mono, Yokuts).
  • Burial festivities (Achomawai, Atsugewi, Bankalachi, Mono, Tübatulabal, Yokuts, Oglala Lakota, Timucua).
  • Conduct mourning rites (Yokuts).
  • Conveyers of oral traditions and songs (Yuki).
  • Nurses during war expeditions (Cheyenne, Achomawi, Oglala Lakota, Huchnom, Karankawa, Timucua).
  • Foretold the future (Winnebago, Oglala Lakota).
  • Conferred lucky names on children or adults (Oglala Lakota, Papago).
  • Weaving and basketry (Zuni, Navajo, Papago, Klamath, Kato, Lassik, Pomo, Yuki).
  • Made pottery (Zuni, Navajo, Papago).
  • Made beadwork and quillwork (Oglala Lakota, Ponca).
  • Matchmaking (Cheyenne, Omaha, Oglala Lakota).
  • Mediator between lovers or married persons (Navajo).
  • Made feather regalia for dances (Maidu).
  • Ceremonial roles during and leading scalp-dances (Cheyenne).
  • Fulfilled special functions in connection with the Sun Dance (Crow, Hidatsa, Oglala Lakota).
Whites called the two-spirit people “berdaches” when they first observed them assume a gender role counter to the traditional one for their biological sex. Many Native American cultures considered them to be a third sex, or a bridge between two worlds.

Names Used for Two-spirit People by Native American Tribes
Acoma: mujerado ("womaned") or qo-qoy-mo ("effeminate person") or kokwina ("men-women")
Aleut: achnucek [shupan, according to Sabine Lang] (male)
Anishnawbe: ougokweniini (male)
Arapaho: haxu'xan (male)
Assiniboine: win'yan inkwenu'ze winktan (male)
Atsugewi: yaawa (male)
Bella Coola: sx'ints (male)
Blackfeet (not the Lakota Blackfoot): Aki-Skassi (male) and Aki kwan ("woman-man")
Cheyenne: hee-man-eh or he'emen (male) and hetaneman (female)
Chukchi (Alaskan Bering Straight): yirka-la ul
Cocopa: elha (male)
Coeur d'Alène: st'amia ("hermaphrodite")
Crow: boté [bate, according to Sabine Lang] (male)
Dakota (Santee): winkta (male)
Eskimo (Chugach): aranu'tiq (male)
Eskimo (St. Lawrence): anasik (male) and uktasik (female)
Flathead: ma'kali or me'mi or tcin-mamalks ("dress as a woman") (male)
Fox: i-coo-coo-a (male)
Hawai'ian: Mähü or mahu [also in Polynesia and Tahiti, cf Fa'afafine]
Hidatsa: miati ("to be impelled against one's will to act the woman") or biatti
Hotcâk: dedjángtcowinga ("blue lake woman") (male)
Hopi: hova (male) [na'dle ("being transformed") (male), and nadle (female), re Sabine Lang]
Huchnom: iwap kuti
Illinois: ikoueta (male)
Isleta: lhunide
Juaneño: kwit
Kaniagmiut: shupan [?]
Keres: kokwimu (male)
Klamath: tw!inna'ek (male and female)
Kodiak: achnucek
Kutenai: tupatke'tek ("to imitate a woman") (male)
Laguna: mujerado (man-woman [?]) or kokwimu or kokwe'ma (male)
Lakota Blackfoot (not the Blackfeet): wintke [derived from "winyanktehca"]
      ("two-souls-person" or "to be as a woman") (male)
Lakota (Ogala): winkte (male)
Lassik: murfidai ("hermaphrodite") (male)
Luiseño: cuit or cuut
Maidu: suku (male and female)
Mandan: mihdacke [mihdäckä ("mih-hä" means "woman"), according to Sabine Lang] (male)
Maricopa: ilyaxi' (impolite) or yesa'an (polite "barren man or woman") (male)
Miami: waupeengwoatar ("the white face") (male)
Miwok: osabu ("osa" means "woman") (male)
Mohave: alyha: (male) and hwame: or hwami (female)
Navajo: nadle ("being transformed") or nadleeh or nádleehí (male and female) or dilbaa’
      or nadleeh (family name)
Nomlaki: walusa ("hermaphrodite") or tohket ("boy who goes around the women all the time")
Ojibwa: agokwa ("man-woman" or "split testicles") (male)
Omaha: mexoga or mixu'ga ("instructed by the moon") or minquga ("hermaphrodite") (male)
Oto: mixo'ge (male)
Paiute, Northern: tübas or t'üBáse or moyo'ne or tüBázanàna (polite)
      düba's ("sterile person") (male): düba's or moroni noho tüvasa (female)
Paiute, Southern: tüwasawuts or maipots or onobakö or töwahawöts or Maai'pots (male)
Patwin: Panaro bobum pi ("he has two (sexes)") (male)
Piegan: ake'skassi ("acts like a woman") (male)
Pima: wiik'ovat ("like a girl") (male)
Plains Cree: a-yahkwew or a-yahkwew (male)
Pomo, Northern: das ("da" means "woman") (male)
Pomo, Southern: t!un (male)
Ponca: misu'ga or morphodite ("hermaphrodite") (male)
Potawatomi: m'netokwe ("manito" plus a female suffix) (male)
Quinault: keknatsa'nxwixw ("part woman") (male)
Salinan: joyas (Spanish for "gem" or "jewel") (male)
Sanpoil: sinta'xlau'wam* (female)
Sauk: i-coo-coo-a (male)
Shasta: gitukuwaki (male)
Shoshone: tennewyppe or tená-wipeh (male)
Shoshoni: tainna wa'ippe* (male)
Shoshoni (Bannock): tuva'sa ("vasap" means "dry") (male)
Shoshoni (Gosiute): tuvasa (male)
Shoshoni (Lemhi): tübasa ("sterile") or tenanduakia ("tenap" means "man") (male)
      and tübasa tenanduakia waip:ü sunwe ("woman half" ?) (female)
Shoshoni (Nevada): tuyayap or tubasa'a ("half man, half woman") or tangwu waip ("man-woman")
      or waip: sinwa ("half woman") (male) and nüwüdüka ("female hunter") or tangowaip
      or tangowaipü ("female") (female)
Shoshoni (Promontory Point): tubasa waip ("waip" means "woman") (male)
Sioux: winkte (male) [cf Dakota Sioux]
Tewa: kwidó or kweedó or kwidõ (male)
Tiwa: lhunide (male)
Tlingit: gatxan ("coward") (male)
Tübatulabal: huiy (male)
Ute: tozusuhzooch (male)
Ute (Southern): tuwasawits or tuwasawuts (male)
Wailaki: clele (male)
Winnebago: shiánge ("eunuch" or "unmanly man") (male)
      or dedjángtcowinga ("blue lake woman") (male)
Wishram: ikte'laskait (male)
Yana: lo'ya (male)
Yokuts (Kocheyali): tonoo'tcim ("undertaker") (male)
Yokuts (Michahai): tono'cim (male)
Yokuts (Paleuyami): tono'cim (male)
Yokuts (Tachi): tonochim or lokowitnono (male)
Yokuts (Wakasachi): tai'yap (male)
Yokuts (Yaudanchi):tongochim (male)
Yuki: i-wa-musp ("man-woman") or iwap-naip ("man-girl") or iwop-naiip ("men-girls") (male)
Yuma: elaxa (male)
Yurok: wegern (male)
Zapotec: muxe, muxhe, muxé [pronounced moo-SHAY] or ira’ muxe (male)
Zuni: lhamana (male and female) and ko'thlama (male) and katsotse (female)

“Public Vows” author Nancy Cott observes that in most Native American groups, “heterosexual couples were important, however, they married within complex kinship systems that accepted premarital sex, expected wives to be economic actors, often embraced matrilocal residence and matrilineal descent, and easily allowed both polygamy and divorce with remarriage.”

Native tribes recognized two-spirit people as being engines of creativity, change and innovation (much as they have been in other cultures and continue to be in ours), and held them in esteem and as part of the community. As Joe Medicine Crow, a Crow traditionalist, told Walter Williams: “We don’t waste people the way white society does. Every person has their gift.”

Plains Indians

• Among the plains Indians, men were encouraged to simultaneously marry two or three wives. This was, in part, because women far outnumbered the men due to casualties from hunting buffalo and intertribal raids. The traditional workload for a wife was daunting, and it was advantageous for a household to have the extra help that another wife would bring.

Marriages were usually arrange by parents through go-betweens. While sons could prod their parents to arrange a marriage with someone they had fallen in love with, a daughter was expected to be dutiful and accept a match without complaint when they wanted her to marry a famous and rich chief.

When a couple did not get parental consent, they could opt to disappear into the grasslands for several weeks, then returning as “man and wife.” This marriage was usually shortly accepted, if after some grumbling.

While horses were given to a woman’s parents when married, they were considered gifts, and not a purchase of the woman, nor a dowry. The horses were considered a gauge of the man’s ardor and to prove that he was a fit provider.


• Among the Miamis, affluent warriors occasionally married more than one wife.


• A Cheyenne bride was put on a blanket and carried to the lodge of her groom’s father and left there. Sometimes a couple had to live with in-laws until they had a teepee of their own, which was usually a fairly brief period.


• Delaware children became sexually active at puberty, although marriage was delayed for some years. Weddings were casual with no vows; couples simply set up a wigwam together. Often, parents arranged the alliance, and a few ceremonial gifts were given by the groom to his in-laws.

Divorce was just as simple, the couple just parted. Women customarily kept the home and the children.

Inheritance was passed through the female line; if a woman had no daughters, then through her sister’s daughters. While the chiefs were male, they were determined by a matrilineal system. Rank passed from a dying chief to a close relative in his mother’s bloodline, perhaps to a brother or the son of his sister.


• Seneca kin relationships, as with all other Iroquois tribes, were determined by maternal decent. All males left their homes as soon as they married and lived in the long house of their wives. Except for weapons, clothing and personal possessions, all property belonged to the women, including the long house and farming tools.

Winnebago and Other Great Lakes tribes

• Among the Winnebago and other Great Lakes tribes, marriage between cross-cousins was encouraged; a woman might marry the son of her father’s sister; a man might marry the daughter of his mother’s brother. But all marriage had to be with members of an opposite moiety (half-tribe).


• Hopi marriage only takes place between members of different clans. Mating with someone of the same maternal line of decent was sacrilege. To become married, a woman would go to the man’s home for three days, and demonstrate such household skills as grinding corn. At the same time, a mock fight would ensue when the man’s paternal aunts pelt his mother and sisters with mud, taunting them for permitting the bride-to-be to carry off their nephew.

Other ceremonies include the soon-to-be married couple having their hair washed in the same basin, symbolizing the mingling of their lives; and going to the edge of the mesa and offering prayers to the sun. Married couples lived in her mother’s home.

Once Hopi puberty ceremonies were performed, an adolescent boy could sneak away during the night for a tryst. If the girl liked him, he could remain with her until shortly before the household awoke. These trysts, often with different partners, sometimes resulted in pregnancies. The girl could choose her favorite among her several lovers, name him as the probable father, and the two would be married.


• When an Havasupais couple wish to marry, the man moves into the woman’s family home. When children are born, the husband builds a home near his parents, for it is from his father that he inherits the land that affords them their living.


• Once a Navajo man’s gift of horses and his acceptability have be approved of by her family, marriage is accomplished simply by his moving into his wife’ family enclave. He soon builds his own house.

For Navajos, marriage is forbidden within one’s clan or the clan of one’s father. It is considered incest.

Further, Navajo tradition forbids a husband from meeting, gazing or talking directly to his mother-in-law. To do otherwise invites blindness.


• A Tlingit groom’s mother or maternal uncle offered the bride’s mother as many and as valuable gifts as the family could afford. If the gifts were acceptable, the marriage would ensue and the bride’s father made his lavish gifts to the groom’s family.

Weddings took place in the house of the father of the bride, where the married couple did not eat throughout the entire wedding feast. Wealthy groom’s families were required to give another feast. Even though already living together, the couple was not considered truly married until the return feast was given.

Each Tlingit village divided themselves between two major groups; the Eagles and the Ravens, each of which was divided into sub-clans. Marriage between two Eagles or two Ravens was strictly forbidden. Choosing a spouse was not a personal matter, but a means of achieving greater wealth and of consolidating relationships among clans.


• Kwakiutl marriages were arranged by the families of the couple, involved gift exchanges demonstrating wealth, and only occurred between those of the same rank.


• When an Aleut man married, he lived at least two years with his wife’s parents. Kinship was usually in maternal terms, and boys were trained by maternal uncles.

Siberian Chuckchee • The Chuckchee had “berdaches” who married people of the same sex and those marriages were culturally and legally recognized.
Tahitian Mmahus • The Mmahus had “berdaches” who married people of the same sex and those marriages were culturally and legally recognized.
Switzerland • In 1536, John Calvin, head of Geneva’s religious government, created a code of morals that limited engagements to six weeks and prohibited revelry, minstrelsy, dancing, and tambourines at weddings. If the bride or groom arrived late, the wedding was canceled.
Saudi Arabia • A 1995 Saudi Arabian government study found that 56.8 percent of all marriages were between first and second cousins or more distant relatives.
Current Global Treatment of Same-sex Couples Legal Marriages
  • The Netherlands
    Holland became the 1st country in the modern world to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples on April 1, 2001. It was brought about through legislative action.
          [See our article: Netherlands Offers Legal Marriage]
  • Belgium
    Belgium became the 2nd country to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples on January 30, 2003. It was brought about through legislative action.
          [See: Belgium Offers Legal Marriage]
  • Massachusetts
    Massachusetts became the 1st U.S. state to offer legal marriage for same-sex couples on May 17, 2004. It came via a court suit.
          [Please see: Massachusetts Offers Legal Marriage]
          [For other U.S. cases see: Legal Marriage Court Cases — A Timeline]
  • Canada
    Canada became the 3th national government to offer legal marriage on June 28, 2005. It came about because of high court interpretations of the Canadian Constitution. The Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland (includes Labrador), Nova Scotia, Ontario, Québec, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon Territory all offered legal marriage for same-sex couples before the nationwide Canadian government (under court pressure) voted for it.
          [See: Canada Offers Legal Marriage.]
  • Spain
    On June 29, 2005, Spain became the 4th national government to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples. This was the result of a campaign promise made by the ruling Socialists’ as part of their aggressive agenda for social reform.
          [See: Spain Offers Legal Marriage]
  • South Africa
    On December 1, 2005, Spain became the 5th national government to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples. It came about due to a Constitutional Court ruling.
          [See: Spain Offers Legal Marriage]
  • California
    California became the 2nd American state to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples on May 15, 2008. Before it came to be law via a court suit, the legislature had twice voted for same-sex legal marriage, which was vetoed by the governor. The legal status is in doubt due to a proposition, and awaits judicial ruling.
          [Please see: California Offered - then banned - Legal Marriage]
          [For other U.S. cases see: Legal Marriage Court Cases — A Timeline]
  • Connecticut
    Connecticut became the 3rd American state to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples on October 10, 2008.
          [Please see: Connecticut Offers Legal Marriage]
          [For other U.S. cases see: Legal Marriage Court Cases — A Timeline]
  • New Hampshire
    New Hampshire became the 7th U.S. State government to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples on June 3, 2009.
          [Please see: New Hampshire Offers Legal Marriage]
  • New York
    New York became the 8th U.S. State government to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples on June 24, 2011. New York previously had a domestic partner status.
          [Please see: New York Offers Legal Marriage]
  • Norway
    Norway became the 6th government to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples on June 17, 2008. Norway previously had a domestic partner status. Full legal marriage came about by parliamentary vote and royal assent.
          [Please see: Norway Offers Legal Marriage]
  • Sweden
    Sweden became the 7th government to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples on April 1, 2009. Existing registered partnerships will remain in use, or can be converted to legal marriage.
          [Please see: Sweden Offers Legal Marriage]
  • Iowa
    Iowa became the 4th American state to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples on April 3, 2009. It came about via a constitutional law court case.
          [Please see: Iowa Offers Legal Marriage]
          [For other U.S. cases see: Legal Marriage Court Cases — A Timeline]
  • Vermont
    Vermont became the 5th American state to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples on April 7, 2009. Previously, Vermont offered “Civil Union,” a separate-but-not-equal domestic partner status. The transformation to legal marriage was brought about by legislative vote, which overid the governor’s veto.
          [Please see: Vermont Offers Legal Marriage]
          [For other U.S. cases see: Legal Marriage Court Cases — A Timeline]

Domestic Partnerships

Domestic partner status and substantial benefits has been conferred to same-sex couples in

  • Belgium - and legal marriage
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greenland
  • Iceland
  • The Netherlands - and legal marriage
  • Norway - and legal marriage
  • Sweden - and legal marriage
and in the U.S. in
  • California
  • Connecticut - and legal marriage
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • New Jersey
  • Vermont - and legal marriage
  • Washington
In the past, the press has mistakenly described these partnerships as “gay marriage.” While describing popular sentiment, the legal status of these domestic partnerships are not equal to legal marriage, and are not universally recognized.
      [See our overview article: Domestic Partnership Benefits: Philosophy and Provider List]

Sources include numerous news reports as well as the following:
  • America’s Fascinating Indian Heritage 1978, Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.
  • The Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick, 1990, Doubleday (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing).
  • The Case for Same-Sex Marriage by William N. Eskridge, Jr., 1996, Free Press (Simon & Schuster).
  • Fabulous Fallacies: More than 300 popular beliefs that are not true by Tad Tuleja, 1999, Galahad Press.
  • Gilgamesh: a verse narrative by Herbert Mason, 1972, Mentor (Penguin) Books.
  • Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit by Randy P. Conner, David Gatfield Sparks, Mayiya Sparks, 1997, Cassell, London, U.K.
  • Marriage, a History: from Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz, 2005, Viking/Penguin Group.
  • Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell, 1994, Villard Books.
Web Sites Articles
  • At Heart of Marriage Debate Are Ever-Changing Traditions by Stephen Buttry, Omaha World-Herald, November 5, 2000.
  • Dowry and Bride-Burning in India by Himendra Thakur (, International Society Against Dowry & Bride-Burning in India, Inc.
  • The History of Marriage as an Institution — by Larry R. Peterson, PhD. Brief outline of the ever-changing and evolving nature of legal marriage.
  • A History of the Family, Vol. 1
  • Love TimeLine, from Socrates to 1996: Centuries of Love by Libby Stephens, Utne Reader.
  • Loving v. Virginia — U.S. Supreme Court decision
  • Many ways to marry by Hugh Spitzer (Seattle attorney and affiliate professor at the U. of Washington Law School where he teaches classical Roman Law). Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 28, 2000.
  • Niger’s Wodaabe: People of the Taboo by Carol Beckwith, National Geographic vol. 164 #4, October 1983.
  • Saudi Tradition and the Gene Pool: Hereditary disorders increase as couples marry within their families by Howard Schneider, Washington Post National Weekly Edition, page 17, January 24, 2000.
  • A White Paper: An analysis of the law regarding same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships by the American Bar Association Family Law Section Working Group on Same-Sex Marriages and Non-Marital Unions, American Bar Association, 321 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610; 312-988-6102; fax 312-988-6030, pgs 7, 10-11, June 2004.
  • With This Yak Grease, I Thee Wed: Big-Money U.S. Marriages Pale in Comparison to History by Buck Wolf, on, June 26, 1998.
  • The Marrying Tribe of the Amazon by Andy Jillings — Discovery Channel documentary, aired on April 2, 2001.

Additions are welcome. Please include citations.
© 2014, Demian
Please do not reproduce this article by any form of reproduction
— electronic or otherwise — without permission.

Also see:

Governments that offer Full Legal Marriage

    Netherlands (2001)
    Belgium (2003)
    Canada (2005)
    Spain (2005)
    South Africa (2005)
    Norway (2009)
    Sweden (2009)
    Iceland (2010)
    Argentina (2010)
    Portugal (2010)
    Denmark (2012)
    France (2013)
    New Zealand (2013)
    Brazil (2013)
    Uruguay (2013)
    New Zealand (2013)
    United Kingdom
      (England, Wales, Scotland) (2013)
    Luxembourg (2014)
    Finland (2014)
    Ireland (2015)
    United States (2015)
    Colombia (2016)
    Germany (2017)
    Taiwan (2017)
    Malta (2017)
US States & Territories

    Massachusetts (2004)
    California (2008)
    Connecticut (2008)
    Iowa (2009)
    Vermont (2009)
    New Hampshire (2009)
    District of Columbia (2009)
    New York (2011)
    Maine (2012)
    Washington (2012)
    Maryland (2013)
    Rhode Island (2013)
    Delaware (2013)
    Minnesota (2013)
    Illinois (2013)
    Utah (2013)
    New Jersey (2013)
    Hawaii (2013)
    New Mexico (2013)
    Michigan (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Oregon (2014)
    Wisconsin (2014)

    Arkansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Pennsylvania (2014)
    Indiana (2014)
    Nevada (2014)
    Virginia (2014)
    Oklahoma (2014)
    Idaho (2014)
    West Virginia (2014)
    Alaska (2014)
    Arizona (2014)
    Wyoming (2014)
    Kansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Florida (2014)
    Colorado (2014)
    North Carolina (2014)
    South Carolina (2014)
    Montana (2014)
    Alabama (2015)
    U.S. Supreme Court (June 26, 2015):
      Ruling: All U.S. States must now
      allow same-sex couples the
      freedom of legal marriage.
Native American Tribes

    Coquille Tribe, Oregon (2009)
    Mashantucket Pequot, Connecticut (2011)
    Suquamish Tribe, Washington (2011)
    Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Washington (2013)
    Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota (2013)
    Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Michigan (2013)
    Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Michigan (2013)
    Santa Ysabel Tribe, California (2013)
    Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, Washington (2013)
    Cheyenne, Oklahoma (2013)
    Arapaho, Oklahoma (2013)
    Leech Lake Tribal Court, Minnesota (2013)
    Puyallup Tribe, Washington (2914)
    Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming (2014)
    Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Michigan, (2014)
    Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington (2014)
    Central Council of Tlingit, Alaska (2015)
    Haida Indian Tribes, Alaska (2015)

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