Same Sex Marriage
While it is a relatively new practice that same-sex couples are being granted the same form of legal marital recognition as commonly used by mixed-sex couples, recent publicity and debate over the past decade gives an impression that civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples is novel and untested. There is a long history of recorded same-sex unions around the world. It is believed that same-sex unions were celebrated in Ancient Greece and Rome, some regions of China, such as Fujian, and at certain times in ancient European history. A law in the Theodosian Code (C. Th. 9.7.3) issued in 342 CE imposed severe penalties or death on same-sex marriage in ancient Rome but the exact intent of the law and its relation to social practice is unclear, as only a few examples of same-sex marriage in that culture exist.
Selection of a partner
There is wide cross-cultural variation in the social rules governing the selection of a partner for marriage. There is variation in the degree to which partner selection is an individual decision by the partners or a collective decision by the partners' kin groups, and there is variation in the rules regulating which partners are valid choices.
In many societies the choice of partner is limited to suitable persons from specific social groups. In some societies the rule is that a partner is selected from an individual's own social group – endogamy, this is the case in many class and caste based societies. But in other societies a partner must be chosen from a different group than one's own – exogamy, this is the case in many societies practicing totemic religion where society is divided into several exogamous totemic clans, such as most Aboriginal Australiansocieties. In other societies a person is expected to marry their cross-cousin, a woman must marry her father's sister's son and a man must marry his mother's brother's daughter – this is often the case if either a society has a rule of tracing kinship exclusively through patrilineal or matrilineal descent groups as among the Akan people of Africa. Another kind of marriage selection is the levirate marriagein which widows are obligated to marry their husband's brother, this is mostly found in societies where kinship is based on endogamous clan groups.
In other cultures with less strict rules governing the groups from which a partner can be chosen the selection of a marriage partner may involve either the couple going through a selection process of courtship or the marriage may be arranged by the couple's parents or an outside party, a matchmaker.
A pragmatic (or 'arranged') marriage is made easier by formal procedures of family or group politics. A responsible authority sets up or encourages the marriage; they may, indeed, engage a professional matchmaker to find a suitable spouse for an unmarried person. The authority figure could be parents, family, a religious official, or a group consensus. In some cases, the authority figure may choose a match for purposes other than marital harmony.
In rural Indian villages, child marriage is also practiced, with parents at times arranging the wedding, sometimes even before the child is born. This practice is now illegal under the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
In some societies ranging from Central Asia to the Caucasus to Africa, the custom of bride kidnapping still exists, in which a woman is captured by a man and his friends. Sometimes this covers an elopement, but sometimes it depends on sexual violence. In previous times, raptio was a larger-scale version of this, with groups of women captured by groups of men, sometimes in war; the most famous example is The Rape of the Sabine Women, which provided the first citizens of Rome with their wives.
Other marriage partners are more or less imposed on an individual. For example, widow inheritance provides a widow with another man from her late husband's brothers.