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Marriage Regulations

Marriage regulations are the laws and rules that govern marriage in a particular country or jurisdiction. They can vary widely from place to place, but they typically address issues such as the age of consent, the minimum legal age for marriage, the requirements for parental consent, the prohibition of polygamy, and the registration of marriages.

Marriage Regulations (Preferential, Prespective and Prospective) in Anthropology

In some countries, marriage regulations are based on religious law, while in others they are based on civil law. In some countries, marriage is a civil contract, while in others it is a religious sacrament. In some countries, marriage is a matter of public record, while in others it is a private matter.

The purpose of marriage regulations is to protect the rights of both the spouses and the children of the marriage. They also help to ensure that marriages are entered into freely and consensually, and that they are not used for fraudulent or illegal purposes.

Here are some of the most common marriage regulations:

  • Age of consent: The age of consent is the minimum age at which a person can legally consent to sexual activity. In most countries, the age of consent for marriage is the same as the age of consent for sexual activity.
  • Minimum legal age for marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is the youngest age at which a person can legally marry, even with parental consent. In most countries, the minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years old.
  • Parental consent: In some countries, parental consent is required for a minor to marry. The age at which parental consent is required varies from country to country.
  • Prohibition of polygamy: Polygamy is the practice of having multiple spouses. In most countries, polygamy is illegal.
  • Registration of marriages: In most countries, marriages must be registered with the government. This helps to ensure that marriages are valid and that the rights of the spouses and children are protected.

Marriage regulations can be complex and vary from country to country. It is important to research the marriage regulations in the country where you plan to marry to ensure that your marriage is legal and valid.

Marriage, as a social institution, has evolved over time with different societies implementing various rules and customs to regulate the practice. Marriage regulations generally fall into three main categories: preferential, prescriptive, and proscriptive.

Preferential Marriage Regulations

Preferential marriage regulations refer to rules that encourage individuals to marry within a specific group or category, often defined by shared characteristics such as religion, ethnicity, or social class (Levinson, 1996).


  1. Endogamy: Endogamy is the custom of marrying within one’s own group, such as within a specific religion or social class. For example, in some Jewish communities, marriage within the faith is strongly encouraged (Fishman, 2004).
  2. Caste-based marriages: In India, the caste system has historically influenced marriage practices, with individuals encouraged to marry within their own caste. Despite legal measures to reduce the impact of the caste system, caste-based marriages remain prevalent in certain regions (Deshpande, 2011).

Implications: Preferential marriage regulations can foster social cohesion within groups, as they often promote shared values, beliefs, and customs. However, they can also contribute to social divisions, perpetuating stereotypes and reinforcing inequalities between groups (Levinson, 1996).

Prescriptive Marriage Regulations

Prescriptive marriage regulations dictate specific partners for individuals, typically based on familial ties or alliances. These rules can involve parental arrangements, as well as obligations to marry certain relatives (Levinson, 1996).


  1. Arranged marriages: In many societies, arranged marriages have been a common practice, with parents or other relatives selecting suitable partners for their children. This practice can be found in various cultures, such as in parts of India, Pakistan, and the Middle East (Bashir & Chou, 2021).
  2. Sororate and Levirate marriages: In some societies, the custom of sororate requires a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister, while the custom of levirate obligates a man to marry his deceased brother’s widow. These customs can be found in various cultures, such as among the traditional societies of the African continent (Parkin & Stone, 2004).

Implications: Prescriptive marriage regulations can strengthen family ties and alliances, as well as ensure the continuation of family lines and resources. However, these regulations can also limit individual autonomy, as individuals may be coerced into marriages that they do not desire (Levinson, 1996).

Proscriptive Marriage Regulations

Proscriptive marriage regulations are rules that prohibit individuals from marrying specific partners, typically due to concerns about genetic, social, or moral factors (Levinson, 1996).


  1. Consanguinity restrictions: Many societies have prohibitions against marrying close relatives, such as siblings or first cousins, due to the potential for genetic issues in offspring (Ottenheimer, 1996).
  2. Interracial marriage bans: Historically, some societies have banned interracial marriages, often due to racist ideologies. For instance, in the United States, anti-miscegenation laws were enacted in several states until the 1967 Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia declared them unconstitutional (Wallenstein, 2002).

Implications: Proscriptive marriage regulations can serve to protect individuals and society from potential genetic, social, or moral issues. However, they can also be rooted in prejudice and discrimination, limiting individual freedom and perpetuating harmful stereotypes (Levinson, 1996).

Here are some additional things to keep in mind about marriage regulations:

  • Marriage regulations can change over time. It is important to check the latest regulations before you get married.
  • Marriage regulations can be different for different types of marriages. For example, same-sex marriages may be subject to different regulations than opposite-sex marriages.
  • Marriage regulations can be different for different religions. For example, Muslims may be subject to different regulations than Christians.

If you have any questions about marriage regulations, it is always best to consult with an attorney or other legal professional.


Marriage regulations, whether preferential, prescriptive, or proscriptive, have played a significant role in shaping societies throughout history. While these regulations can serve specific social functions, such as promoting cohesion within groups or protecting against genetic issues, they can also lead to social divisions, coercion, and discrimination. It is essential to continue examining and reassessing these regulations in contemporary societies, ensuring that they align with the principles of justice, equality, and individual autonomy.


  • Bashir, S., & Chou, V. (2021). Arranged marriages, matchmakers, and dowries in Indian, Chinese, and Japanese literature. In A. George & N. Chaudhuri (Eds.), A cultural history of marriage in the age of empire (pp. 113-132). Bloomsbury Academic.
  • Deshpande, A. (2011). The grammar of caste: Economic discrimination in contemporary India. Oxford University Press.
  • Fishman, S. B. (2004). Double or nothing? Jewish families and mixed marriage. UPNE.
  • Levinson, D. (1996). Marriage rules. In D. Levinson & M. Ember (Eds.), Encyclopedia of cultural anthropology (Vol. 2, pp. 728-732). Henry Holt and Company.
  • Ottenheimer, M. (1996). Forbidden relatives: The American myth of cousin marriage. University of Illinois Press.
  • Parkin, R., & Stone, L. (Eds.). (2004). Kinship and family: An anthropological reader. Blackwell Publishing.
  • Wallenstein, P. (2002). Tell the court I love my wife: Race, marriage, and law – An American history. Palgrave Macmillan.
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