The History of Marriage–A Timeline

The History of Marriage—A Timeline

-December 2017:  Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory in the Atlantic Ocean, repeals its May 2017 law legalizing same-sex marriage, thereby becoming the first jurisdiction in the world to repeal same-sex marriage, same-sex couples thereafter being entitled to registered domestic partnerships.  (The approximately six same-sex couples that were married between May 2017 and December 2017 were able to maintain the marriage status with all its rights, privileges, and obligations.)

-July 12, 2017:  The government of the predominantly Catholic island-nation of Malta, located in the Mediterranean Sea, legalizes same-sex marriage, thereby becoming the 24th nation to usher in marriage equality.

-June 30, 2017:  German lawmakers vote to legalize same-sex marriage.

-May 11, 2017:  A U.S. court rules that the non-biological parent of a same-sex marriage may be granted joint custody of the couple’s children.

-May 5, 2017:  The Supreme Court of Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, legalizes same-sex marriage.

-January 30, 2017:  89 of the 112 members comprising the synod of the Church of Norway (“the People’s Church”) voted to allow clergy to officiate the wedding of any couple, including same-sex couples. (Same-sex marriage became law in Norway in 2009.)

 -January 9, 2017:  The seventh Constitutional Court in Lima, Peru, rules that Peru must recognize same-sex marriages legally entered into outside the country’s borders. (The court recognized a Mexican [Mexico City] marriage between two men.)

-As of April 1, 2016:  The following countries allow same-sex marriage—Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark (proper and Greenland), Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales), Finland (signed 2015; to take effect 2017), France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, South Africa, The Netherlands (proper), Norway, United States of America, Uruguay.

-January 19, 2016:  Same-sex marriage becomes law in Greenland (Denmark).

June 26, 2015: United States Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage throughout the United States.

May 22, 2015: Irish voters amend the country’s constitution to allow for same-sex marriage, thereby becoming the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage as the result of a popular vote.

-May 19, 2015: According to BuzzFeed (, India-based newspaper Mid-Day agreed to run a same-sex, spouse-wanted advertisement. The ad reads, in part: “Seeking 25-40, well-placed, animal-loving, vegetarian GROOM for my son (36, 5′ 11”) who works with an NGO, Caste No Bar (Though IYER Preferred)….” The advertisement was reportedly placed by the mother of gay rights activist Harish Iyer of Mumbai, India. (According to BuzzFeed, The Times of India, DNA, and The Hindustan Times all refused to run the ad).

As of May 1, 2015: The following nations allow same-sex marriage—Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark (Denmark proper), France, Iceland, Luxembourg, New Zealand (New Zealand proper) Netherlands (Netherlands proper), Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales), and Uruguay, (Same-sex marriage is legal in certain states of Mexico and the United States).

-June 15, 2012:  Same-sex couples may be wed in the Church of Denmark, but if a minister refuses to perform the ceremony in the church, the local bishop must secure a replacement minister.

-May 9, 2012: Argentina becomes the first country to grant people the freedom to change their legal and physical gender without having to undergo judicial, psychiatric, and medical procedures beforehand. (In most other jurisdictions, transgender people must submit to physical and mental health exams before being approved for sex-reassignment treatments. The law is also the first to allow transgender people to legally change their gender without changing their bodies. Under the Argentina law, there are no medical requirements at all—no diagnosis, no hormonal treatment, no surgery. The law, in effect, says that when it comes to one’s sex and one’s gender, “you are what you say you are.” Many transgender people regard the mental and physical evaluations for sex and gender reassignment to be invasions of privacy).

-September 30, 2011: Mexico City legislator Leonel Luna proposes reform to the civil code which would allow couples to determine the length of their marriage commitment via marriage contracts, the minimum duration being two years. The contracts would provide an option to renew and include provisions for child custody and support as well as property division.

-2011: 51% of all nubile Americans (age 18 and older) are married. (As opposed to 80% in the 1950s)

-2010: Over 15% of all 2010 marriages in the United States are interracial. (Alabama, in the year 2000, becomes the last state in the U.S. to lift its unenforceable—since 1967—ban on interracial marriage)

-2009: Two-thirds of all births in the United States are to women under the age of 30, and 53% of those births are to unwed mothers. (41% of all births in 2009 in the United States were to unwed mothers).

-2007: Nepal becomes first country to allow for “third gender” option on legal documents.

-2001: Same-sex marriage legalized in Netherlands, igniting an international movement for same-sex marriage rights.

-May 8, 1996: South Africa becomes world’s first country to constitutionally prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. (The constitution protects people from discrimination on the basis of “race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth”). Sexuality was thereby declared a Human Right.

-1989:  Denmark becomes the first country in the world to legislate civil unions for same-sex couples.

-1980s: Because of the high incidence of divorce beginning in the 1970s, couples begin living together before marriage in order to ascertain marital compatibility

-1977: The term “Palimony” is coined

-1973: Right to an abortion in the United States

-1973: Opening of the first battered women’s shelter in the United States

-1971: Dominican Republic institutes a one-day residency requirement for divorce

-1969 – 1989: No-Fault Divorce Laws passed in 50 states of the United States, beginning with California in 1969 and ending with New York in 1989

-1969: Stonewall Riots marks beginning of Gay Rights Movement in the United States and the rest of the world. (Prior to the Movement, many homosexuals would enter different-sex marriages and lead superficially heterosexual lives)

-1967: Interracial marriage is permissible in all 50 states of the United States.

-1960: Birth-control pills introduced onto market

-1950s: 80% of all nubile Americans married. (Status of single is regarded as socially dysfunctional)

-1950: The New Marriage Law (of China) enforces monogamy; insists upon the equality of men and women; allows for choice in marriage (Prior to law, marriage was by arrangement)

-1931: Six-week residency requirement for a Nevada divorce. By 1940, 49 of every 1,000 divorces in the United States were being executed in Nevada

-1929: Child Marriage Restraint Act (of India) makes it illegal for parents to marry off their young children (sometimes even before they were born)

-1920s: Unsupervised dating (as opposed to chaperoned family visits), made easier by independent city living and the rise of the automobile, becomes a part of life in the industrialized, urban world. A sexual revolution is ignited, which would go unmatched until the 1970s

-20th century: Numerous scholarly writings from various academic disciplines describing the diversity of ancient and early-modern cultural institutions of marriage around the world (Africa, Asia, and The Americas): heterosexual monogamy, polygyny, polyandry, and group marriage; and trans-generational, trans-genderal, and companionate same-sex marriages. Endogamy and exogamy, along with patrilocal, matrilocal, and avunculocal systems practiced

-By 1900: Married women throughout the United States have right to own property in their own name

-1875: Civil marriages in Germany

-1870 and 1882: Married Women’s Property Act (England) allowed married women to keep inherited property and money they earned

-1856: Hindu Women’s Remarriage Act allows widows to remarry, although remarriage is frowned upon. (Remarriage of Hindu widows is more acceptable today)

-Victorian Era (1837-1901): Love becomes a key component in marriage. (Before the Victorian Era, love was incidental to the other reasons for entering a marriage and was oftentimes regarded as antithetical to the success of marriage)

-1836: Marriage Act of 1836 allows for civil marriages in England and Wales

-1830s: Industrial Revolution, which necessitates independent urban living—unsupervised by family—causes decline in arranged marriages in the industrialized world. With the decline of arranged marriages comes an increase in love-based marriages

-1829: Sati, the practice in India where a widow would self-immolate upon the funeral pyre of her late husband, is outlawed. (Though illegal, the practice continues to this day)

– Marriage Act of 1753 (Lord Hardwicke’s Act): Civil plus religious ceremony observed by witnesses required to make a marriage official in Great Britain (England and Wales).

-1740: Qing Dynasty outlaws homosexuality in China

-By 17th century: Some form of governmental involvement necessary to make marriage official in Protestant countries.

-16th and 17th centuries in Europe and America: “Bundling,” the practice of permitting a young couple, prior to marriage, to share a bed, fully clothed (in the family home of the female), with a wooden separation between them (or a bolster cover tied over the female’s legs), thereby enabling the couple to intimately share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions while prohibiting sexual intimacy

-1563: Council of Trent specifies that Catholic marriages must be celebrated in the presence of a priest and at least two witnesses

-1552: The marriage vow,“…To have and to hold from this day forward…,” is entered into Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

-Until 1545 in most of Europe: Marriage is by mutual consent and private declaration, followed by cohabitation. Neither priests nor witnesses necessary.

-1517 (-1648): Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is of the position that marriage is not a sacrament, but instead a worldly thing.

-14th century: Anti-homosexual sentiments spread across Europe

-1368-1644 (Ming Dynasty, China): Same-sex unions permitted in Fujian Province

-13th century: Many secular governments across Europe enact sodomy laws and begin strictly enforcing existing laws

-13th century: Marriage becomes a sacrament in the Roman Catholic faith

-1228: Women in Scotland gain right to propose marriage, igniting a slow trend towards similar entitlement across Europe

-12th century: Married Christian woman obligated to take the name of her husband

-12th century: Courtly love and romance become popular themes in medieval literature

-1040: Ban on polygamy for German and French Ashkenazi Jews. (Sephardic Jews in the Middle East would keep the practice until the late 1940s)

-866 C.E.: Pope Nicholas I decrees that there must be mutual consent for a valid marriage

-ca. 650 C.E.: Visigoth State in Spain, a remnant of the Western Roman Empire, criminalizes same-sex intimacy

-533 C.E.: Justinian Code outlaws same-sex intimacy in what remains of the Eastern Roman Empire

-380 C.E.: Flavius Theodosius declares Christianity the official religion of Rome, and by the end of the 4th century, most Romans had converted. (Christianity becomes the official religion of Armenia in 301 C.E., Ethiopia in 325 C.E., and Georgia in 337 C.E.)

-St. Augustine (b. 354 C.E., d.430 C.E.): Proponent of concept of sex only for procreation (Stoicism, Neo-Platonism, and Manicheanism espoused similar concepts) (St. Augustine is also credited with having formulated the concept of Original Sin)

-342 C.E.: Ban on same-sex marriage in Rome (but it continues in the Eastern Roman Empire until it is banned—along with same-sex intimacy—by the Justinian Code in 533 C.E.)

-313 C.E.: Edict of Milan is instituted, allowing Christianity to be practiced in the Roman Empire

-First-century Christian Church: Celibacy, which theoretically would allow for full devotion to God, is preferred over marriage. (Marriage is suggested, however, if the alternative is fornication and lustful behavior)

-54 C.E.: Emperor Nero marries his male lover Sporus

-Republican Era Rome (ca. 2nd century B.C.E): Marriage Sine Manu. Wife is the property of her father under the concept of Patria Potestas. She is owned by her father, he can put her to death, or demand her divorce. Upon death of father or emancipation by father, she could own property, conduct business, divorce her husband for any reason, and regain her dowry (if one had been offered) upon divorce

-Early Republican Era Rome (ca. 5th century B.C.E.): Manus Marriage. Husband owns wife (and their children under Patria Potestas). Wife could own nothing, and husband could demand her death

-King Solomon (b. 1011 B.C.E, d. 931 B.C.E.): Son of King David and Bathsheba, Solomon, according to the Hebrew Bible, had 700 wives and 300 concubines

-Ancient Egypt: Egyptian dynastic history is traditionally dated from ca. 3,200 B.C.E, the early years of the Early Dynastic Period. Most of the surviving marriage records, however, date from the Third Intermediate Period (the 21st to 25th Dynasties, dated from 1090 to 663 B.C.E). Some of the surviving marriage records of that period pertain to property rights of the couple. The term “shep en shemet,” meaning the price for marrying a bride, is oftentimes seen in those documents. There is no known evidence of religious ceremonies related to ancient Egyptian marriages. Most of the surviving records pertain to divorce. Little can be gleaned from the documents as to the Egyptian interpretation of marriage. Polygamy, by the 13th Dynasty (1795 to 1650 B.C.E.), was practiced by the ruling class, while monogamy was the norm of the less privileged classes. Brother-sister and father-daughter marriages occurred in the royal family in order to strengthen claims to rule. Egyptian iconography, especially on funerary architecture and artifacts, depicts different-sex and same-sex (to a much lesser degree) unions. Love seems to have played a significant role in many Egyptian marriages, as evidenced by the displays of affection often seen in iconographic Egyptian familial depictions, though it was most likely not a key factor in the formation of marital relationships.

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