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Why Do People Get Married – A History Of The Institution

People get married for all sorts of reasons, whether it is to strengthen inter family ties or simply because they’ve found the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Some people do it for the party, some for the excuse to wear a princess dress and some for far more practical reasons, such as to provide some security for their children. There’s a whole raft of different motivations for getting hitched and these have changed and developed over the centuries.

Marriage goes back hundreds of thousands of years to the point at which the very first humans started getting together. Virtually all ancient civlisations have their own words for marriage, illustrating that it has been ingrained in most cultures from the very start – the Middle English word, for example, is ‘mariage,’ Old French is ‘marier,’ and in Latin, ‘mar?t?ri,’ means to get married. There have always been different reasons why marriage might suddenly be on the agenda; one of the earliest of these is thought to have been that a man wanted to be sure of the paternity of his children and so would pay a ‘bride price’ for ‘exclusive sexual access’ to one woman.

In a system rather more like the modern marriage, in Ancient Greece there was no specific marriage ceremony as such and instead the marriage was simply an agreement that the man and the woman would regard each other as husband and wife. Usually, the man was older than the woman, with most marriages taking place in the man’s 20s and the woman’s teens. For the Romans, there was a choice of two marriages, one of which required a ceremony and witnesses to be both created and dissolved, and where the woman essentially moved to become part of the man’s family, and the other a ‘free marriage’ where the woman remained with her own family.

Early Christians also had their own version of marriage, which was nothing like the religious ceremonies that later evolved and was instead considered a private agreement where the couple simply agreed to be married. From the 12th century, the first changes to marriage began to take shape, for example women were obliged to take their husband’s name. At the end of the 16th century a second layer of permission was required for a man to take a wife – now it wasn’t just the church that had to give permission but also the woman’s parents.

However, it wasn’t until the 1753 Marriage Act that it became a requirement that there was a marriage ceremony, which had to be performed by an Anglican priest in an Anglican church. In the 19th century the institution once again evolved as the Marriage Act 1836 brought in the concept of the civil marriage, where a religious ceremony was no longer required, just a declaration before a clerk of civil administration. The in 2005, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into effect, making same sex unions lawful and giving hope to gay rights campaigners that one day they might even be allowed to be married.

Whatever the motivations behind this most ancient and revered of institutions, the quarter of a million people getting married in the UK each year demonstrates that it is still a pretty popular way for couples to declare their love. Despite soaring divorce rates and the high cost of weddings, it seems that when it comes to this most special day, everyone still wants to have one.

Amy is a freelance writer working for RH Live wedding band in Kent – if you’ve decided that marriage is still for you after learning about its history they make a great choice for your wedding entertainment!


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