by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2015

Demeter & Persephone IN ANCIENT GREECE, all women were viewed as manifestations of the earth goddess. That is why ancient Greek fathers recited the words, “I give my daughter to you for the plowing of legitimate children,” when giving away their daughters. But the daughter was more on permanent loan to her husband than his property. She had a dowry that had to be returned if they divorced.

                                                        Demeter & Persephone

IN ANCIENT GREECE, all women were viewed as manifestations of the earth goddess. That is why ancient Greek fathers recited the words, “I give my daughter to you for the plowing of legitimate children,” when giving away their daughters. But the daughter was more on a permanent loan to her husband than his property. She had a dowry that had to be returned if they divorced.

Marriage as an institution is an ancient custom that predates recorded history. The Gods and Goddesses had husbands and wives in the minds of stone age societies. Marriage tradition was handed down orally long before writing was established.

Marriage is ultimately a contract and a strategic alliance between two individuals or families. This contract, unless temporary, is generally designed to provide financial aid, emotional stability and security to the people involved.

Some cultures practiced temporary and conditional marriages. The Celtic tribes practiced handfasting. The Gaelic scholar, Martin Martin, wrote: “It was an ancient custom in the Isles that a man take a maid as his wife and keep her for the space of a year without marrying her; and if she pleased him all the while, he married her at the end of the year and legitimatized her children; but if he did not love her, he returned her to her parents.”

Fixed-term marriages were popular in the Muslim community. Pre-Islamic Arabs practiced a form of temporary marriage that carries on today in the practice of Nikah Mut’ah, a fixed-term marriage contract.


“The first laws in modern times recognizing same-sex marriage were enacted during the first decade of the 21st century. As of March 2015, seventeen countries (Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay) and several sub-national jurisdictions (parts of Mexico and a majority of the U.S. states) allow same-sex couples to marry. Finland has enacted a law to legalize same-sex marriage which will come into force in March 2017. Bills allowing legal recognition of same-sex marriage have been proposed, are pending, or have passed at least one legislative house in Austria, Australia, Chile, Germany, Ireland, Slovenia, Switzerland, Taiwan and Venezuela, as well as in the legislatures of several sub-national jurisdictions (parts of Australia, Mexico, and the United States).”  -

Granting formal legal status to same-sex marriages is a relatively recent idea and practice, but there are mixed-sex couples in the history of ancient Greece. Generally, same-sex marriages in Greece were promiscuous, with the partners having the freedom to engage in sex with others. Though the Theodosian Code issued in 438 CE imposed heavy penalties on same-sex relationships, it is unclear how the law was enforced or ignored socially. Some areas in China, particularly the Fujian region, permitted same-sex unions.

With marriages in decline in the western world and the birth rate getting lower with each generation in developed countries, the social need to raise children has become optional in many millions of families.

A corollary to the contract of marriage is the rights of offspring if any. Our laws are now removed from the older social systems that sanctioned marriage primarily for property rights and the rights of the offspring.


There is no one universal custom for marriage now or in recorded history.

Early nomads in the middle east, where modern civilization arose, allowed a wife to have a tent of her own which she kept completely independent of her husband. The early Israelites kept this custom as well, as shown in the last book of Proverbs.

Polygamous and polyandrous societies are found in the Himalayan Mountains. Because land is scarce in the Himalayas all brothers were allowed to marry the same wife. This allowed the family land holdings to remain whole rather that be divided by heirs. If the lands were split, the families would have small plots that could not sustain family life.

In Europe, this division of the land into fragments was prevented through e the inheritance  process. The elder inherited and the siblings lost out. Some of the disinherited went on to become celibate monks and priests.


Notes and Queries (1951), an anthropological handbook, defined marriage as “a union between a man and a woman such that children born to the woman are the recognized legitimate offspring of both partners.” [Notes and Queries on Anthropology. Royal Anthropological Institute. 1951. p. 110.]

These ideas did not sit well with Kathleen Gaugh (1924-1990). Gaugh was a British anthropologist and a feminist. She noted that the Nuer people of Sudan allowed women to act as husbands under certain conditions. She suggested that instead of a man and a woman, the phrase should be modified to “a woman and one or more other persons.”

Gaugh studied polygamous societies such as the Nayar in India. In that society, the husband’s role was not conventional. Women had many lovers in this society. The lovers were the procreators. The father was an absentee non-resident. None of the men has any legal rights to the woman’s children. Gaugh was forced to abandon the idea of sexual access as a key element of marriage and define if in terms of the legitimacy of the offspring.  She wrote: “a relationship established between a woman and one or more other persons, which provides a child born to the woman under circumstances not prohibited by the rules of relationship, is accorded full birth-status rights common to normal members of his society or social stratum.”

Economic anthropologist Duran Bell criticized the legitimacy-based definition. Some societies do not require legitimacy for children to have legal rights such as the right to property and inheritance.

Edmund Leach also thought Gough’s definition was too restrictive in terms of recognized legitimate offspring.  He suggested that marriage be viewed in terms of the different types of rights it serves to establish.

In a 1955 article in Man, Leach argued that “no one definition of marriage applied to all cultures.”

He offered a list of ten rights associated with marriage, including sexual monopoly and rights with respect to children, with specific rights differing across cultures. Those rights, according to Leach, included:

1″  To establish a legal father of a woman’s children.

2   To establish a legal mother of a man’s children.

3   To give the husband a monopoly in the wife’s sexuality.

4   To give the wife a monopoly in the husband’s sexuality.

5   To give the husband partial or monopolistic rights to the wife’s domestic and other labour services.

6   To give the wife partial or monopolistic rights to the husband’s domestic and other labour services.

7   To give the husband partial or total control over property belonging or potentially accruing to the wife.

8   To give the wife partial or total control over property belonging or potentially accruing to the husband.

9   To establish a joint fund of property–a partnership–for the benefit of the children of the marriage.

10T   o establish a socially significant ‘relationship of affinity’ between the husband and his wife’s brothers.”    [Leach, Edmund (Dec 1955). “Polyandry, Inheritance and the Definition of Marriage,” Man 55 (12): 183.]

Duran Bell describes marriage as “a relationship between one or more men (male or female) in severalty to one or more women that provides those men with a demand-right of sexual access within a domestic group and identifies women who bear the obligation of yielding to the demands of those specific men.”  [In a 1997 article in Current Anthropology.]

“Men in severalty,” means that Bell is referring to some societies where kin groups retain a right in a woman’s offspring even if her husband (a lineage member) is dead. This practice is also found in Levirate marriages, a marriage type in which the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother’s widow and the widow is obligated to marry her deceased husband’s brother. The type of marriage is a social attempt to provide for the offspring and provide for the spouse while salvaging inheritance rights for the children and maintaining a unified land holding.

In referring to “men (male or female),” Bell is referring to women within the lineage who may stand in as the “social fathers” of the wife’s children born of other lovers as in Nuer’s “Ghost marriage.”

In Sudan, a ghost marriage is a marriage where a deceased groom is replaced by his brother. The brother serves as a stand-in to the bride, and any resulting children are considered children of the deceased spouse. This unusual type of marriage is nearly exclusive to the Dinka (Jieng) and Nuer tribes of Southern Sudan, although instances of such marriages have also occurred in France.

Nuer women do not marry deceased men only to continue the man’s bloodline. In accordance to Nuer tradition, any wealth owned by the woman becomes the property of the man after the marriage. Thus, a wealthy woman may marry a deceased man to retain her wealth, instead of giving it up after marrying. 

Among the Nuer, a ghost marriage is nearly as common as a marriage to a live man.



The right to sexual access is one of the primary purposes of modern marriage. In most advanced countries, the woman’s right to refuse sexual contact is upheld legally. Marital rape, a common occurrence in the past, has become illegal in many countries, though proving the violation has often proven to be quite difficult.

Feminists often see marriage as an institution traditionally rooted in patriarchy. They often believe that it promotes male superiority and power over women. When men are designated to be the providers and the woman the caretaker, then women become the property of the male.

In the US, studies have shown that, despite egalitarian ideals being common, less than half of respondents viewed their opposite-sex relationships as equal in power, with unequal relationships being more commonly dominated by the male partner. Studies also show that married couples find the highest level of satisfaction in egalitarian relationships and lowest levels of satisfaction in wife dominant relationships.” – Wikipedia

Traditional marriage imposes an obligation on the wife to be sexually available to her husband. It also demands that the husband provide material and financial support for the wife.

Feminists rebelled against the male bias in the institution of marriage. Social thinkers, men and women alike, pointed to the lack of choice that marriage gave to the woman. Bertrand Russell wrote in his book Marriage and Morals that: “Marriage is for woman the commonest mode of livelihood, and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution.”

Angela Carter in Nights at the Circus wrote: “What is marriage but prostitution to one man instead of many?”


In recent years, peer marriages have been receiving attention in quite a few western countries including Great Britain and the United States.

Shared earning/shared parenting marriage, also known as peer marriage, is a type of marriage where the partners at the outset of the marriage set it up in a manner of sharing responsibility for earning money, meeting the needs of children, chores, and recreation time in nearly equal fashion across these four domains. It refers to an intact family formed with relatively equal earning and parenting styles from its initiation. 

Peer marriage is distinct from shared parenting, as well as the type of equal or co-parenting that father’s rights activists in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere seek after a divorce in the case of marriages, or unmarried pregnancies/childbirths, not set up in this fashion at the outset of the relationship or pregnancy.

A number of books have addressed various aspects of this type of marriage, including Equally Shared Parenting by Marc and Amy Vachon, The Four-Thirds Solution by Stanley Greenspan and Getting to 50/50 by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober.


“Love and Marriage” is a song with lyrics by Sammy Cahn and music by Jimmy Van Heusen. The idea epitomized the values of society through most of both centuries.

“Love and marriage, love and marriage,

Go together like a horse and carriage.

This, I tell you, brother.

You can’t have one without the other.”

Despite the popularity and cleverness of the lyrics of the song, love is much deeper that the institution of marriage. It is a basic binding force found in the world’s very existence. The elementary prototype of love is the attraction of atomic structures to one another. The combinations they create are simple, primitive examples of the force of love.

Love is seen everywhere in the natural world as adults pair and care for their mates and their young. Love is evident throughout nature. It is seen in the bonding that forms the very chemicals of life.

Love is accepting another as a part of oneself. Love is the inclusion of the other into the very fabric of everyday life. Love unites and draws together like iron fragments to the magnetic field. In human terms, love expands the isolated and alone self to include beings and objects from outside the self.

Love is felt not just for living things, but for actions and methods of performing actions. The world is built on attraction and love, caring and nurturing. The desire and urge to be more than we are alone is the driving force of evolutionary progress.

Love may be the primary reason for existence itself, as primal awareness, discovered the other outside itself, reflected upon it, accepted it within itself, and gave birth to an entire universe. The idea is not so far removed from the ideas of the ancient Greeks and the stone age tribe dwellers.


  1. Pingback: LOVE AND MARRIAGE, THEN AND NOW | Shareable Snippets

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