23 Nov 06
A marriage is a relationship between or among individuals, usually recognized by civil authority and/or bound by the religious beliefs of the participants. The fact that marriage often has the dual nature of a binding legal contract plus a moral promise can make it difficult to characterize. In one form or another, marriage is found in virtually every society. The very oldest records that refer to it speak of it as an established custom. In Western societies, marriage has traditionally been understood as a monogamous union, and, until the 21st century, only marriages between a man and a woman were recognised. In other parts of the world polygamy has been a common form of marriage. Usually this has taken the form of polygyny (a man having several wives) but a very few societies have permitted polyandry (a woman having several husbands). Purposes of marriage include security (derived from the solemn commitment to longevity in the relationship), companionship, procreation, child education and development, economic collaboration, and social stability. It aids in providing identity and is often the means by which surnames or family names are carried forward. Each partner in a marriage is referred to as the spouse of the other, and spousal is used as a legal term for the marital relation. A male spouse is a husband; a female spouse, a wife. The spouse of a royal figure may be referred to as his or her consort.