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Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a culturally and often legally recognized union between people called spouses. It establishes rights and obligations between them, as well as between them and their children (if any), and between them and their in-laws. It is nearly a cultural universal, but the definition of marriage varies between cultures and religions, and over time. Typically, it is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually sexual, are acknowledged or sanctioned. In some cultures, marriage is recommended or considered to be compulsory before pursuing any sexual activity. A marriage ceremony is called a wedding.
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Individuals may marry for several reasons, including legal, social, libidinal, emotional, financial, spiritual, political, and religious purposes. In some areas of the world, arranged marriage, child marriage, polygamy, coverture and forced marriage are practiced, while others outlawed them to protect human rights. Around the world, there has been a general trend towards ensuring equal rights for women and legally recognizing the marriages of interfaith, interracial/interethnic/inter-caste, and same-sex couples. Debates persist regarding the legal status of married women, leniency towards violence within marriage, customs such as dowry and bride price, marriageable age, and criminalization of premarital and extramarital sex. Female age at marriage has proven to be a strong indicator for female autonomy and is continuously used by economic history research.
Marriage can be recognized by a state, an organization, a religious authority, a tribal group, a local community, or peers. It is often viewed as a contract. A religious marriage is performed by a religious institution to recognize and create the rights and obligations intrinsic to matrimony in that religion. Religious marriage is known variously as sacramental marriage in Catholicism, nikah in Islam, nissuin in Judaism, and various other names in other faith traditions, each with their own constraints as to what constitutes, and who can enter into, a valid religious marriage.