What Is the Definition of Marriage?

First kiss

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Marriage is defined differently, and by different entities, based on cultural, religious, and personal factors. 

A commonly accepted and encompassing definition of marriage is the following: a formal union and social and legal contract between two individuals that unites their lives legally, economically, and emotionally. The contractual marriage agreement usually implies that the couple has legal obligations to each other throughout their lives or until they decide to divorce. Being married also gives legitimacy to sexual relations within the marriage. Traditionally, marriage is often viewed as having a key role in the preservation of morals and civilization. 

Other Definitions

There are other definitions of marriage as defined by these well-known resources:


  1. a: the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2): the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage [same-sex marriage] b: the mutual relation of married persons [wedlock] c: the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage
  2.  an act of marrying or the rite by which the married status is effected; especially: the wedding ceremony and attendant festivities or formalities


  1. Any of the diverse forms of interpersonal union established in various parts of the world to form a familial bond that is recognized legally, religiously, or socially, granting the participating partners mutual conjugal rights and responsibilities and including, for example, opposite-sex marriage, same-sex marriage, plural marriage, and arranged marriage.
  2. Also called opposite-sex marriage. The form of this institution under which a man and a woman have established their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc. See also traditional marriage below
  3. This institution expanded to include two partners of the same gender as in same-sex marriage
  4. The state, condition or relationship of being married; wedlock 
  5. The legal or religious ceremony that formalizes the decision of two people to live as a married couple, including the accompanying social festivities
  6. A relationship in which two people have pledged themselves to each other in the manner of a husband and wife without legal sanction

In a landmark decision in the Obergefill v. Hodges case in June 2015, the United States Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Synonyms: matrimony, nuptials, institution, wedding, espousal, wedlock, formal union, social union, legal contract, merger, alliance

Antonyms: single like, bachelorhood, spinsterhood

Common Misspellings: marraige, marrage, mawwiage

More Forms and Definitions of Marriage

There are many alternative forms, common phrases, and definitions of marriage, including:

  • Arranged marriage
  • Berdache marriage
  • Boston marriage
  • Celestial marriage
  • Civil marriage
  • Common law marriage
  • Companionate marriage
  • Cousin marriage
  • Covenant marriage
  • Cyber marriage aka E-marriage
  • Endogamy
  • Eternal marriage
  • Exogamy
  • Forced marriage
  • Incestual marriage
  • Interfaith marriage
  • Interracial marriage
  • Intra-faith marriage
  • Left-handed marriage
  • Marriage of Convenience
  • May-December marriage
  • Misyar marriage
  • Mixed marriage
  • Morganatic marriage
  • Monogamy
  • Open marriage
  • Polygamy
  • Polygyny
  • Polyandry
  • Pragmatic
  • Proxy marriage
  • Romantic marriage
  • Same-sex marriage
  • Sealed marriage
  • Secret marriage
  • Shotgun marriage
  • Soulmate ​marriage
  • Urfi marriage
  • Zombie marriage

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