The History of Human Marriage - Vol. 1

By Edward Westermarck | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE ORIGIN OF MARRIAGE

MARRIAGE is generally used as a term for a social institution. As such it may be defined as a relation of one or more men to one or more women which is recognised by custom or law and involves certain rights and duties both in the case of the parties entering the union and in the case of the children born of it. These rights and duties vary among different peoples, and cannot therefore all be included in a general definition; but there must, of course, be something which they have in common. Marriage always implies the right of sexual intercourse: society holds such intercourse allowable in the case of husband and wife, and, generally speaking, even regards it as their duty to gratify in some measure the other partner's desire.1 But the right to sexual intercourse is not necessarily exclusive. It can hardly be said to be so, from the legal point of view, unless adultery is regarded as an offence which entitles the other partner to dissolve the marriage union, and this, as we know, is by no means always the case.

At the same time, marriage is something more than a regulated sexual relation. It is an economic institution, which may in various ways affect the proprietary rights of the parties. It is the husband's duty, so far as it is possible and necessary, to support his wife and children, but it may also be their duty to work for him. As a general

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1
For the conception of a "right," see my Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, i. 139sqq.

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