Group Marriage

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Group Marriage


The idea of group marriage probably originated in the incorrect observations of 18th-century explorers (such as Cook) of the sexual habits of Polynesian societies. Lewis Henry Morgan suggested that group marriage, in which sexual and reproductive rights in a group of women were acquired by a group of men, was the original family form. Friedrich Engels also used this notion in his evolutionary theory of the family and the development of the state.

Marriage is many things: a legal contract, a religious union, the beginning of a new generation, and a rite of passage. Sometimes, it is all of these at once. It is a commitment between husband and wife, family and family, and the couple and the state. Historically, marriage was neither a legal contract nor a religious union in many European countries. The Catholic Church assumed jurisdiction over marriage during the Middle Ages, and although some marriages occurred outside the church, they were not considered valid. In the United States in the nineteenth century, marriage became a civil union; however, a religious marriage ceremony is still very common. Eighty percent of couples are married by a religious leader performing a sacrament, which ensures the approval of their religious community and the government. Twenty percent of couples are married by a judge or justice of the peace. This paper discusses group marriage and compares its traditional role with Inuit Indians and other Siberian cultures with new age practices of group marriage.


In most societies it is understood that people get married to have children. Marriage offers a stable living arrangement for a new family and signals that the bride and groom have entered adulthood. Marriage is considered a permanent bond and, in some cultures, cannot be broken. This stability makes marriage most suitable for raising children. In some cultures, being unable to conceive a child is automatic grounds for divorce; in others, a marriage begins with conception. (Westermarck 14-15)

The reason for marrying given most often in the United States is love. This is a relatively new concept, however, is still not a reason for marriage in some cultures. In Colonial America, for example, marriages were arranged between families to secure their economic status. Other reasons include economic security, a need for a new living arrangement, or a feeling that a long-standing relationship should logically move onto marriage.

Arranged marriages are common throughout the world: for girls, they are arranged in 44 percent of cultures; for boys, marriages are arranged in 17 percent. These arranged unions ensure a family will maintain its political and social status. The bride and groom often have a voice in the arrangement, but some elope to avoid an undesirable arranged marriage.

In the United States, marriage is generally considered a legal contract between a man and a woman. Most states require a license to marry, that couples be a certain age, that people entering into marriage are not currently married, that they are not related, and that they are married by a representative of the state in ...
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