Marriage. The union of two people (in some cultures, even more) in a romantic relationship, is meant to last a lifetime. Since an estimated 2530 BC, marriage has been instituted in relationships all around the world to prove an undying love– or in many cases economic and generational purity.
The history of marriage has not always been as tender as we know it today. Having a consensual, loving, committed relationship is a relatively new idea. In the past, weddings were performed to keep bloodlines “pure” which usually meant marrying within the family (thankfully that tradition is mostly outdated) or marrying into a richer or more powerful family to spread wealth.
It would take a whole book to explain the history of marriage in depth, but to keep things concise, we’ll relay the highlights of how marriage came to be in the United States.
Beginning of time :
2350 B.C., Mesopotamia- the first recorded ceremony of marriage taking place. Anthropologists believe that families were usually larger than just one matriarch and patriarch, some families may have been as large as thirty people! However, the earliest recorded marriages were not about choosing to marry someone for love. Rather than centering around kinship, the earliest marriages were centered around power, money, and ideas of purity in bloodlines.
The first evolution:
Fast forward to Medieval Europe. Royal families would pick wives from other royal families to carry on the bloodline of the aristocracy. But then, something changed. Around 800 AD, people started performing marriages in the name of God. And a while later in 1549, priest Thomas Cranmer would write the first official book of wedding vows, The Book of Common Prayer, which would turn out to be a big hit! Cranmer’s most popular vows were the iconic :
“I, name, take thee, name, to be my wedded Husband/Wife.
To have and to hold from this day forward,
To have and to hold from this day forward,
for better for worse,
for richer for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love, cherish, and to obey,
till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance.”
There was also a time in history when having children outside of marriage was not unusual. In the 1700s, as much as a third of brides were already pregnant when their weddings were performed. Also, couples who cohabitated for more than one year were automatically considered married.
During the mid-1800’s, marriages were not commonly recorded even though they regularly happened. Part of this was due to economic hardship. To celebrate the unity of a couple, a couple would jump together over a “besom”, or what we know today as a broomstick!
In the last century (ish):
Only in 1913 would official legal marriage records become part of the American wedding culture.
In 1967, the United States legalized interracial marriage on the basis that
- the “freedom to marry” belongs to all Americans;
- marriage is one of our “vital personal rights” and
- the right to marry is “essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by a free [people].”
In 2015, the legalization of homosexual marriage in all 50 states would allow Americans to envision family as more than one man and one woman being in a partnership to create the next generation.
The 2012 American Census also states that “women with higher educational attainment (are) more likely to eventually marry than women with less than a college degree” (Elliott, D. B., Krivickas, K., & Brault, M. W. (2012). SEHSD working paper number 2012-12 – census.gov. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/working-papers/2012/demo/SEHSD-WP2012-12.pdf).
Today, marriage is vastly different from what we once knew. Marriage is now a union of two people, who are happy together, in love, and want to spend forever with one another– so long as the relationship is healthy and both parties have their individual goals being met.
The truth is that marriage cannot be defined by one singular idea. A marriage is between two people, not the world. It is up to the people in a relationship what their marriage needs to look like to be successful; whether that means one partner works and the other stays at home, cooperating in unison to raise children or just being with one another to feel loved. To be married is a deeply personal experience and no one can put limitations on love– only you and your partner know what’s best for you.