Definition of Marriage:
Marriage is one of the universal social institutions. It is established by the human society to control and regulate the sex life of man. It is closely connected with the institution of family. In fact, family and marriage are complementary to each other. As Gillin and Gillin have said, "Marriage is a socially approved way of establishing a family of procreation".
As Westermarck has remarked, "Marriage is rooted in the family rather than the family in the marriage". Marriage is an institution of society which can have very different implications in different cultures. Its purposes, functions and forms may differ from society to society, but it is present everywhere as an institution.
There is no definition which adequately covers all types of human marriage. It has given a number of definitions and explanations among which the following may be noted.
(i) Edward Westermarck in his "History of Human Marriage" defines marriage as "the more or less durable connection between male and female lasting beyond the mere act of propagation till after the birth of offspring".
(ii) Malinowski says that marriage is a "contract for the production and maintenance of children".
(iii) According to Robert H. Lowie, "Marriage is a relatively permanent bond between permissible mates".
(iv) Broadly speaking, however, marriage may be defined as "a socially sanctioned sex relationship involving two or more people of the opposite sex, whose relationship is expected to endure beyond the time required for gestation and the birth of children".-Duncan Mitchell's "A dictionary of Sociology".
(v) Alfred McClung Lee writes, "Marriage is the public joining together, under socially specified regulations of a man and woman as husband and wife".
Characteristics of Marriage:
1. Universality. Marriage is more or less a universal institution. It is found among the pre- literate as well as literate peoples. It is enforced as a social rule in some of the societies.
In Japan, celibacy is publicly condemned. In Korea, unmarried individuals are called 'half persons. Among the Hindus, marriage is a sacrament which is regarded as more or less obligatory. The Todas of Nilagiri refuse to perform funeral rites for a girl if she dies before her marriage. But they do perform it after completing some sort of marriage ceremony for the corpse.
According to the Chinese philosopher Confucius, an individual who remains unmarried throughout his life commits a great crime. As Levi-Strauss has observed that the unmarried primitives of Central Brazil are made to lead a miserable life.
2. Relationship between Man and Woman:
Marriage is a union of man and woman. It indicates relationship between one or more men to one or more women. Who should marry whom? One should marry how many?-are the questions which represent social rules regarding marriage which differ significantly.
3. Marriage Bond is enduring:
Marriage indicates a long lasting bond between the husband and wife. Hence it is not coextensive with sex life. It excludes relationships with prostitutes or any other sexual relationship which is viewed as casual and not sanctioned by custom, law or church.
Marital relationship between man and woman lasts even after the sexual satisfaction is obtained. The Hindus, for example, believe that marriage is a sacred bond between the husband and wife which even the death cannot break.
4. Marriage Requires Social Approval:
A union of man and woman becomes a marital bond only when the society gives its approval. When marriage is given the hallmark of social approval, it becomes a legal contract.
5. Marriage is Associated with Some Civil or Religious Ceremony:
Marriage gets its social recognition through some ceremony. This ceremony may have its own rites, rituals, customs, formalities, etc. It means marriage has to be concluded in a public and solemn manner.
Sometimes it receives as a sacrament the blessings of religion. Marriage among the Hindus, for example, is regarded as a sacrament. It is connected with rituals such as - Homa, Saptapadi, Panigrahana, Mangalya- Dharana, etc.
6. Marriage Creates Mutual Obligations:
Marriage imposes certain rights and duties on both the husband and wife. Both are required to support each other and their children.