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9. No considerations of marriage can avoid a discussion of gender issues. Discuss with ethnographic illustrations.

Marriage can be defined as a legal contract or a social union that exists between two individuals that creates kinship. It is an institution where interpersonal relations, especially sexual and intimate relations, are acknowledge and accepted in a number of ways depending on the cultures and subcultures of the individuals. It is also referred to as wedlock and it is formalized usually through wedding ceremonies, which also differ according to cultures. There are different reasons for which individuals enter the social union. Some of these reasons include legal reasons, biblical, social, libidinal, economic, emotional, religious or spiritual reasons. Marriages are also can result from such reasons as to fulfill legal obligations for the establishment of a family unit, family obligations or, as a result of arranged marriages, for the protection of children and for the public declaration that the couple is committed to one another. Entering the institution of marriage spells different kinds of legal and normative obligations to the participating parties. In some cases, these obligations might extend to the immediate members of families of the involved individuals. The function, type and characteristics of this social union vary from one culture to another, and can change with time. However, there are two general types of marriages and they include religious marriages and civil marriages, and typically, these social unions apply a combination of both (Bell 237- 54).

Anthropologists have proposed several definitions of marriage for the purposes of including a wide variety of practices in marriage observed in different cultures. For example, an anthropologist, Westermarck, defined marriage as a connection that is more or less durable between female and male lasting beyond the mere activities of reproduction, until the offspring has been produced (Westermarck 71a). In another one of his publications, Westermarck went contrary to his prior definition of marriage by arguing that marriage is a relation of one or more women, or of one or more men, which is recognized by either law or custom (Westermarck 3b). Another definition of marriage is the one seen in the anthropological publication Notes and Queries that defines marriage as a union between a woman and a man which allows for the birth of children to the women, and become the legitimate and legally recognized off springs of the two partners (Notes and Queries on Anthropology 110). Gough, on the other hand, defines marriage as a union between a woman and one or more individuals, (Gough 23- 34), this was after he recognized such practices as those practiced by some cultures such as those in Sudan, whereby women were at times allowed to act as husbands and marry wives.

The definition of Gough, however, has been widely criticized by some anthropologists who argue that the definition is too restrictive in regards to recognizing the legal off springs of the married individuals and instead argued that marriage should be seen in terms of the different kinds of rights it seeks to establish and serve. One of these critics is Leach who expanded the definition of Gough to propose that marriage should be defined as the relationship that exists between a woman and any other person, which provides that an off spring be born to the woman under such circumstances or situation that are not prohibited by the relationship rules. He further argued that no one particular marriage definition applied to more than one cultures (Gudeman 131).

As these different definitions of marriage indicate, marriage is a union that is formed between a man and woman or between a woman and any other person. The issue of whom the woman or man gets married to has been an issue of debate since time in memorial. Different cultures allow a marriage to exist between two individuals of the same sex, while the majority of cultures consider this kind of marriage immoral, unnatural and illegal. The issue of same sex marriages, therefore, is going to form a large part of this paper, in that, the paper will show and analyze the different kinds of gender- related issues that affect and influence the institution of marriage (Schultz and Lavenda 332- 46).

One of the main reasons as to why individuals get married is for the purposes of forming a kinship. Most anthropologists are interested in the issue of kinship because it is the kind of relationship that results from family, marriage or other essential arrangements in culture. There are two main kinds of kinship relationships that exist today, and they include affinal kinship, which is, because of marriage or law, and consanguinial kinship, which results from blood relations. It is through these two kinds of kinship that a transmission of ideas, goods and behavior occurs. Kinship is a term used to describe as sense of being another individual’s relative through sharing, descent or marriage. Kinship provides for the basis of examination and study of different kinds of partnership, reproduction, and community throughout the world (Minnesota State University 21- 34).

Another thing that is critical in the analysis of this paper is sexual orientation of individuals. Sexual orientation can be defined as a sexual pattern and emotional attraction based on one’s partner gender. Heterosexuality, therefore, refers to the sexual and emotional attraction between both women and men. In the general American culture, heterosexuality is the only form of sexual orientation that has received complete legal and social legitimacy. However, though heterosexuality is seen as the ‘normal’ form of sexual orientation in the US, it should be noted that many other different societies and cultures have perspectives that are widely varied about sexual orientation and sexuality (Elkridge 1419 1513).

There are different forms of sexual orientations that have been observed in different kinds of cultures and societies, and it is these forms of sexual orientations that govern marriages. These include homosexuality, pansexuality, bisexuality, transgender and asexual. Homosexuality is the sexual orientation, which makes one sexually and emotionally attracted to individuals of the same sex, for example, gays and lesbians. Bisexuality, on the other hand, is the sexual orientation that makes one sexually and emotionally attracted to both females and males. When one has the ability to attract individuals from either gender or biological sex, including those who fall outside the binary of male or female are said to be pansexual, while those who do not have any apparent sex organs or sex are referred to as asexual. Transgender individuals are those whose sexual identity does not match their assigned sex (Elkridge 1419 1513).

Although the institution of marriages dates from ancient history, most cultures have their own legends and narratives of how marriage came to being. The way in which the marriage is conducted and the ramifications and rules governing the institution of marriage has changed from time to time, as has the marriage itself, depending on the demographic and culture of the individuals involved. Additionally, various cultures have their own theories as to why they participate in marriage. One example is to be assured of the paternity of his off springs. For this reason, the man might be willing to pay dowry to the parents of his bride so as to exclusively access sexual benefits. The consequence of this form of marriage is legitimacy rather than its motivation. In addition, various marriage practices exist in different culture throughout the globe. In some societies, an individual is limited to only one partner at a time, while other cultures allow for a man or a woman to have more than one partner during the course of their marriage. Some other societies also allow marriage institutions to be practiced between two women or two men. Frequently, societies usually have other marriage restrictions depending on the age of the participants, their pre- existing kinship, gender and their membership on social or religious groups (Schultz and Lavenda 332- 46).

In the past few years, a number of questions and issues pertaining homosexuality have risen. Homosexuality has become an issue of debate, and a worrying social and moral phenomenon even in societies where it does not present any essential legal issue. There have generally been a larger number of opposers of the issue of same- sex relations than the supporter, and there have been numerous reasons given to support the argument s against homosexual marriages (Smith 232- 34).

In most societies, and especially in the United States, members of the transsexual, lesbian, bisexual, gay and questioning groups have only just begun to be recognized as a legal part of the society. However, there are still a large number of prejudices that occur against members of these groups, and hate crimes are not unheard of. Even though these groups have lived through this harassment and discrimination for a long period of time, they are still making notable improvements in the United States to improve their lives and the lives of anyone else who associates with the LGBTQ community. This is being made possible through the legalization of same sex marriages at the government level. As a result, five different states in the US have made same sex marriages and relationships legal. These include Connecticut, New York, Iowa, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Although these seem to be huge steps the United States is taking, other nations such as Belgium and Canada have also allowed gay marriages and partnerships, among other countries. The ever-spreading clubs have also been indicated to be playing significant roles in promoting awareness and equality in the society of the LGBTQ groups. However, the support has not been complete. Many individuals with conservative views are more inclined to not support these kinds of partnerships and may even discriminate against these groups (Rupp 287- 304).

This phenomenon of same sex marriage and partnerships has not just recently emerged. For example, it is believed that women in Sudan in the ancient times, and even now, were allowed to marry other women. In this culture, which is known as the Nuer culture, a woman can take another woman for a wife and become the father of the children of the woman who has been married. As part of this kind of union, there is a difference between the genitor and the pater. The pater is the woman who marries another woman and assumes the role of a husband, while the genitor is s neighbor, a friend, or a relative of the pater who is used to get the wife of the pater pregnant, and help the two women around the home with the activities that are regarded as unfit for women. Aside from the few activity the genitor assumes, the pater is the ‘man’ of the house and, therefore, assumes most of the responsibilities the usual husbands take. If wealthy enough, these women are allowed to marry as many women as they want (Amato 1267- 87).

Another society, which indicates that gender was not essential in marriage, is the ancient Greece. In this society, same sex relations between men were seen as normal and they were considered to be the highest type of love to ever exist between humans. As a result, these kinds of relationships were accepted and common just as the relations between men and women were. This relationship was built on a reciprocity and love basis, and typically required an older man to initiate a relationship with a younger male. This relationship was said to show the ability of men to further themselves in intelligence and knowledge, and, therefore, was not regarded as a form of physical connection. The men were still required to take wives and reproduce children (Stayskal 34- 76).

Though such relations are accepted in a number of societies as it has been indicated, most societies in the world have illegalized and banned same- sex relationships and marriages. There are various reasons behind this failure to acknowledge same sex relationships and most of them are based on religion, social norms and morality. Most cultures refuse to recognize same sex relations on the basis that they go against rules of nature. They argue that men and women were created to be with different sexes and not the same sexes, and that breaking this rule is tantamount to immorality and social decay. Others cite religious reasons arguing that God created women and men so that they could be with each other and that if he so wished he could have created men and men or women and women. However, one of the most essential arguments against same sex marriages is based on reproduction (Hobhouse 67- 89).

Most anthropological definitions of reproduction indicate that reproduction is the process through which new members of a society are brought into being, through conception, pregnancy, birth of the child, and raising of the child. As a result, marriage has been practiced in most societies for this purpose. It is for this reason why most individuals disagree to agree or recognize same- sex marriages because they do not provide for this function (James 56- 98).


The issue of gender when it comes to marriages has had a significant position in the society since time in memorial, and has earned so much attention because of the many implications and functions marriage has in the society. Same- sex relations are accepted in some communities but they remain illegal in most societies. Marriage is seen as a place where new members of a society are produced, it is also seen as place where the needs of an individual, those related to intimacy and sexuality are fulfilled. It is the difference in perceptions and ideologies of how these relations should be and how families and kinships should be made that result to differences in how individuals feel about the issue of gender in marriage.

Works cited

Amato, Paul. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 62.4 (2009): 1269- 87. Print

Bell, Duran. ‘Defining Marriage and Legitimacy’. Current Anthropology 38.2 (1997): 237–254. Print

Elkridge, William. ‘Symposium on Sexual Orientation and the Law.’ Virginia Law Review 79.7 (1993): 1419-1513. Print

Gough, Kathleen. ‘The Nayars and the Definition of Marriage’. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland: 89(1959):23–34. Print

Gudeman, Stephen. Relationships, residence and the individual, (1976): 131. Print

Hobhouse, Leonard. Morals in evolution: a study in comparative ethics (1906): 45-56. Print

James, Paul. Reproduction. Western Washington University, 2009, print

Minnesota State University. Kinship and Marriage. New York: Emuseum. 2009. Print

Notes and Queries on Anthropology. Royal Anthropological Institute. (1951):110. Print

Rupp, Leila. ‘Toward a Global History of Same-Sex Sexuality.’ Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.2 (2001): 287-302. Print

Stayskal, Byron. Ancient Greek Literature, WWU: Winter, 2009, print

Schultz, Emily and Robert Lavenda. Cultural Anthropology: A Perspective on the Human Condition. New York: Oxford UP, Incorporated, 2009. Print 332-346

Smith, Peter. “Marriage”. A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá’í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. (2000): 232–233. Print

Westermarck, Edvard. The History of Human Marriage Volume 1, (1921a): 71. Print

Westermarck, Edvard.  The Future of Marriage in Western Civilization, volume II (1936b): 3.print

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