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When defined broadly, marriage is considered a cultural universal. Individuals may marry for several reasons, including legal, social, libidinal, emotional, financial, spiritual, and religious purposes.
Whom they marry may be influenced by socially determined rules of incest, prescriptive marriage rules, parental choice and individual desire.
In terms of legal recognition, most sovereign states and other jurisdictions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples and a diminishing number of these permit polygyny, child marriages, and forced marriages.For example, the number of marriages in Europe decreased by 30% from 1975 to 2005.Historically, in most cultures, married women had very few rights of their own, being considered, along with the family's children, the property of the husband; as such, they could not own or inherit property, or represent themselves legally (see for example coverture).None of these men had legal rights to the woman's child.This forced Gough to disregard sexual access as a key element of marriage and to define it in terms of legitimacy of offspring alone: marriage is "a relationship established between a woman and one or more other persons, which provides a child born to the woman under circumstances not prohibited by the rules of relationship, is accorded full birth-status rights common to normal members of his society or social stratum." Economic anthropologist Duran Bell has criticized the legitimacy-based definition on the basis that some societies do not require marriage for legitimacy.