The body of legal specifications, requirements and marriage law is called the “Marital Law”.
Marriages are valid for their initiation, continuation, or validity. A legally recognized union between one man or one woman is called marriage. Since 2001, the Netherlands has been legalizing same-sex marriage. Some jurisdictions, including some European countries and U.S. States, have also implemented domestic partnerships or civil unions, which give gay couples many of same rights and obligations as married couples. While the United States does not recognize domestic partnerships or civil unions, it grants a variety of legal rights to gay couples.
A marriage is considered a contract that is subject to legal processes. This means that a newly married couple experiences a profound change in their legal status. The couple will be subject to certain obligations and rights. These obligations may include sharing a home or near-by dwelling, providing domestic services like child rearing, cooking, housekeeping, as well as food, shelter, clothing and other support. Rights of marriage include sharing ownership and inheritance of each others’ property in varying degrees, and, in monogamous relationships, the exclusive right of sexual intercourse.
These generalizations aside, each society, past and present, has its own conception of marriage and many have created laws to reflect that culture and expectation. Three types of marriage were recognized by ancient Roman law. Confarreatio was a solemnized ceremony that involved many witnesses and required animal sacrifice. This ceremony was reserved for patrician families. Many plebeians used coemptio to mean marriage by purchase. Usus, which was the informal form, was marriage only by mutual consent and evidence that there had been extended cohabitation. Roman law placed women under the control and on equal footing with children. Roman law prohibited slaves from marrying with another slave or free person. However, the union of male slaves and female slaves was recognized by different laws.
The canon law of Roman Catholic Church governed matrimonial relationships between Christians in Western Europe up to the Reformation. It still holds considerable authority in some Roman Catholic Countries. In the past, marriage was regarded as a sacred union that can only be ended by the death of one spouse.
This high-minded view of marriage saw the husband and the wife as “one flesh”. Marriage was transformed from a Roman civil contract to a sacrament, a union of souls and minds that could never be broken. Marriage was considered to be complete by canon law if the parties consent freely and equally. The marriage was considered complete between baptized people by consent and then consummation. Canon law ruled that a marriage was null and void if the parties had a prohibited degree of close blood relation (consanguinity or affinity).