Marriage (also called matrimony or wedlock) is a socially or ritually recognized union or legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws. The definition of marriage varies according to different cultures, but it is principally an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged. In some cultures, marriage is recommended or considered to be compulsory before pursuing any sexual activity. When defined broadly, marriage is considered a cultural universal.
Individuals may marry for several reasons, including: legal, social, libidinal, emotional, financial, spiritual, and religious. Who they marry may be influenced by socially determined rules of incest, prescriptive marriage rules, parental choice and individual desire. In developing areas of the world arranged marriage, child marriage, polygamy, and sometimes forced marriage, may be practiced as a cultural tradition. Conversely, such practices may be outlawed and penalized in many parts of the world out of concerns for human rights and because of international law. In developed parts of the world, there has been a general trend towards ensuring equal rights within marriage for women and legally recognizing the marriages of interracial, interfaith, and same-gender couples. Oftentimes, these trends have been motivated by a desire to establish equality and uphold human rights.
Marriage can be recognized by a state, an organization, a religious authority, a tribal group, a local community or peers. It is often viewed as a contract. Civil marriage is a marriage without religious content carried out by a government institution in accordance with marriage laws of the jurisdiction, and recognised as creating the rights and obligations intrinsic to matrimony. Marriages can be performed in a secular civil ceremony or in a religious setting via a wedding ceremony. The act of marriage usually creates normative or legal obligations between the individuals involved, and any offspring they may produce. In terms of legal recognition, most sovereign states and other jurisdictions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples or two or more persons of opposite gender in the gender binary, and a diminishing number of these permit polygyny, child marriages, and forced marriages. Over the twentieth century, a growing number of countries and other jurisdictions have lifted bans on and have established legal recognition for interracial marriage, interfaith marriage and most lately, same-sex marriage. Some cultures allow the dissolution of marriage through divorce or annulment. In some areas, child marriages and polygamy may occur in spite of national laws against the practice.
Since the late twentieth century, major social changes in Western countries have led to changes in the demographics of marriage, with the age of first marriage increasing, fewer people marrying, and many couples choosing to cohabit rather than marry. For example, the number of marriages in Europe decreased by 30% from 1975 to 2005.
Historically, in most cultures, married women had very few rights of their own, being considered, along with the family's children, the property of the husband; as such, they could not own or inherit property, or represent themselves legally. In Europe, the United States, and a few other places, from the late 19th century throughout the 21st century, marriage has undergone gradual legal changes, aimed at improving the rights of women. These changes included giving wives a legal identity of their own, abolishing the right of husbands to physically discipline their wives, giving wives property rights, liberalizing divorce laws, and requiring a wife's consent when sexual relations occur. These changes have occurred primarily in Western countries. In the 21st century, there continue to be controversies regarding the legal status of married women, legal acceptance or leniency towards violence within marriage (especially sexual violence), traditional marriage customs such as dowry and bride price, forced marriage, marriageable age, and criminalization of consensual behaviors such as premarital and extramarital sex.
The word "marriage" derives from Middle English mariage, which first appears in 1250–1300 CE. This in turn is derived from Old French marier (to marry) and ultimately Latin marītāre meaning to provide with a husband or wife and marītāri meaning to get married. The adjective marīt-us -a, -um meaning matrimonial or nuptial could also be used in the masculine form as a noun for "husband" and in the feminine form for "wife." The related word "matrimony" derives from the Old French word matremoine which appears around 1300 CE and ultimately derives from Latin mātrimōnium which combines the two concepts mater meaning "mother" and the suffix -monium signifying "action, state, or condition."
Source and more about marriage at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage
A wedding is the ceremony where people are united in marriage. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes. Most wedding ceremonies involve an exchange of wedding vows by the couple, presentation of a gift (offering, ring(s), symbolic item, flowers, money), and a public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or leader. Special wedding garments are often worn, and the ceremony is sometimes followed by a wedding reception. Music, poetry, prayers or readings from religious texts or literature are also commonly incorporated into the ceremony.
Old English weddung "state of being wed" (wed (v) Old English weddian "to pledge, covenant to do something, marry," from Proto-Germanic *wadjojanan (cf. Old Norse veðja "to bet, wager," Old Frisian weddia "to promise," Gothic ga-wadjon "to betroth"), from PIE root *wadh- "to pledge, to redeem a pledge" (cf. Latin vas, genitive vadis "bail, security," Lithuanian vaduoti "to redeem a pledge"). Sense remained "pledge" in other Germanic languages (cf. German Wette "bet, wager"); development to "marry" is unique to English. "Originally 'make a woman one's wife by giving a pledge or earnest money', then used of either party". Related: Wedded; wedding.). Meaning "ceremony of marriage" is recorded from c.1300; the usual Old English word for the ceremony was bridelope, literally "bridal run," in reference to conducting the bride to her new home. Wedding cake is recorded from 1640s; as a style of architecture, attested from 1879.
Common elements across cultures
A number of cultures have adopted the traditional Western custom of the white wedding, in which a bride wears a white wedding dress and veil. This tradition was popularized through the wedding of Queen Victoria. Some say Victoria's choice of a white gown may have simply been a sign of extravagance, but may have also been influenced by the values she held which emphasized sexual purity. Within the modern 'white wedding' tradition, a white dress and veil are unusual choices for a woman's second or subsequent wedding.
The use of a wedding ring has long been part of religious weddings in Europe and America, but the origin of the tradition is unclear. One possibility is the Roman belief in the Vena Amoris, which was believed to be a blood vessel that ran from the fourth finger (ring finger) directly to the heart, thus when a couple wore rings on this finger their hearts were connected. Historian Vicki Howard points out that the belief in the "ancient" quality of the practice is most likely a modern invention. "Double ring" ceremonies are also a modern practice, a groom's wedding band not appearing in the United States until the early 20th century.
The wedding ceremony is often followed by a drinks reception then a wedding breakfast, in which the rituals may include speeches from the groom, best man, father of the bride and possibly the bride, the newlyweds first dance as a couple, and the cutting of an elegant wedding cake.
A traditional English rhyme details what a bride should wear or carry at her wedding for good luck:
and a silver sixpence in her shoe.
Wedding ceremony participants
Wedding ceremony participants, also referred to as the wedding party, are the people that participate directly in the wedding ceremony itself.
Depending on the location, religion, and style of the wedding, this group may include only the individual people that are marrying, or it may include one or more brides, grooms (or bridegrooms), persons of honor, bridespersons, best persons, groomsmen, flower girls, pages and ringbearers.
A woman’s wedding party consists of only those on her side of the wedding party. Those on a groom’s side are called his groom’s party.
- Bride: A woman about to be married.
- Bridegroom or Groom: A man who is about to be married.
- Marriage officiant: the person who officiates at the wedding, validating the wedding from a legal and/or religious standpoint. This person may be a judge, justice of the peace, or a member of clergy.
- Best Man, Woman, or Person: The chief assistant to a bridegroom at a wedding, typically a sibling or friend of special significance in his life. Often holds the wedding rings until their exchange.
- Mother of the Bride or Groom: The mother of either the bride or groom. The mother of the bride is required to choose her outfit before the mother of the groom.
- Maid, Matron or Man of Honor: The title and position held by a bride's chief attendant, typically her closest friend or sibling.
- Bridesmaids: The female attendants to a bride. Males in this role may be called honor attendants or sometimes bridesmen, but that term has a different traditional meaning.
- Groomsmen or Ushers: The attendants, usually male, to a bridegroom in a wedding ceremony. Female attendants, such as a sister of the groom, are typically called honor attendants.
- Page(s): Young attendants may carry the bride’s train. In a formal wedding, the ring bearer is a special page who carries the rings down the aisle. The coin bearer is similar page who marches on the wedding aisle to bring the wedding coins.
- Flower girl(s): In some traditions, one or more children carry bouquets or drop rose petals in front of the bride in the wedding procession.