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Religious marriage recognizes and creates the rights and obligations intrinsic to matrimony before that religion.

These trends coincide with the broader human rights movement.

Marriage can be recognized by a state, an organization, a religious authority, a tribal group, a local community, or peers. When a marriage is performed and carried out by a government institution in accordance with the marriage laws of the jurisdiction, without religious content, it is a civil marriage.

Some countries do not recognize locally performed religious marriage on its own, and require a separate civil marriage for official purposes.

In other countries, such as Australia, while only civil marriage is recognised, the Marriage Act allows for a civil marriage and religious marriage to be performed simultaneously by a clergyperson of a recognized religion if he or she is also legally recognized as a wedding officiants (though it is illegal to purport to solemnize religious marriages which would have been unlawful under civil law, such as polygamous marriages or child marriages).

Civil marriage recognizes and creates the rights and obligations intrinsic to matrimony before the state.

When a marriage is performed with religious content under the auspices of a religious institution it is a religious marriage.

In The History of Human Marriage (1922), Edvard Westermarck defined marriage as "a more or less durable connection between male and female lasting beyond the mere act of propagation till after the birth of the offspring." In The Future of Marriage in Western Civilization (1936), he rejected his earlier definition, instead provisionally defining marriage as "a relation of one or more men to one or more women that is recognized by custom or law".

The anthropological handbook Notes and Queries (1951) defined marriage as "a union between a man and a woman such that children born to the woman are the recognized legitimate offspring of both partners." In recognition of a practice by the Nuer people of Sudan allowing women to act as a husband in certain circumstances (the ghost marriage), Kathleen Gough suggested modifying this to "a woman and one or more other persons." In an analysis of marriage among the Nayar, a polyandrous society in India, Gough found that the group lacked a husband role in the conventional sense; that unitary role in the west was divided between a non-resident "social father" of the woman's children, and her lovers who were the actual procreators.

The act of marriage usually creates normative or legal obligations between the individuals involved, and any offspring they may produce or adopt.

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