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Various Views on Socially Acceptable and Legal Marriage

The type and functions of marriage vary from culture to culture. In the United States, Europe, and China in the early 21st century, legally sanctioned marriages are monogamous (although some pockets of society still sanction polygamy socially, if not legally) and divorce is relatively simple and socially sanctioned. In the West, the prevailing view toward marriage today is that it is based on emotional attachment between the partners and entered into voluntarily.

In the Islamic world, marriage is sanctioned between a man and a woman, however there are verses in chapter 4 of the Qur'an which state that in certain conditions a man is allowed up to four wives. In Imperial China, formal marriage was sanctioned only between a man and a woman, although a man could take several concubines and the children from the union were considered legitimate.

Societies that Permit Polygamy
Some societies permitted polygamy, in which a man could have multiple wives; even in such societies however, most men have only one. In such societies, having multiple wives is generally considered a sign of wealth and power. The status of multiple wives has varied from one society to another. In Islamic societies, the different wives were considered equal while in Imperial China, one woman was considered the primary wife while the other women were considered concubines. Among the upper classes, the primary wife was an arranged marriage with an elaborate formal ceremony while the concubines were taken on later with minimal ceremony.

Monogamous Societies are Most Popular
There are also many monogamous societies, where a marriage consists of only two people, a very few polyandrous, where a woman could have multiple husbands. Societies which permit group marriage are extremely rare, but have existed in utopian societies such as the Oneida Community.

Serial Monogomy
However, in 21st century Western cultures, while bigamy is illegal and sexual relations outside marriage are generally frowned-upon, divorce and remarriage have been relatively easy to undertake. This has led to a practice called serial monogamy. Serial monogamy occurs when a husband, usually of average to high socioeconomic status, divorces an older wife in order to take on a younger wife. The younger wife is popularly referred to as the "trophy wife" by many who frown upon the practice. The modern practice of serial monogamy is strikingly similar to patterns of polygamy in other societies, and some evolutionary psychologists speculate that this practice is a normal human mating strategy.

Same-Sex Marriage
Legally sanctioned marriages are generally conducted between heterosexual couples, although there are countries that recognize same-sex marriage, including The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, the American state of Massachusetts, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Germany, France, and the American state of Vermont allow couples to enter legal partnerships, but these partnerships are not considered marriages even if they bestow many of the same legal benefits upon the couple.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

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