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The Legal Definition of Marriage

For anyone entertaining the idea of getting married, it's essential you understand the legal definition of marriage. Some people think marriage is all fun and games, but if things should turn sour, there are serious legal consequences that will have to be dealt with. Moreover, it would be in your best interests to understand what marriage entails. It does not entail marrying more than one wife -- it does entail providing financial, emotional, and spiritual assistance and support, in sickness and in health.

Understand What Constitutes a Legal Marriage


In 1862 marriage became defined as a bond between two people and only two people. In 1879 this unique contract became federally enforced and upheld by the United States Supreme Court. Currently, each state supervises its own issuance of marriage licenses and verification of marriage certificates. There is no federal legislation concerning marriage.

If you are a resident in the United States or plan to marry here, you need to understand what constitutes a legal marriage. You could be married in one part of America and your marriage will not be recognized in another part of America. You must know how marriage is defined in the United States.

Of the 50 states in the in Union, 37 have defined marriage as a consenting contract between one man and one woman. Four of these 37 -- Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska and Nebraska -- have all passed Defense of Marriage Acts as amendments to their respective state constitutions. The legal definition of marriage varies from state to state. In the six states -- California, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire -- that have passed same-sex legislation, these definitions vary from the majority of the states.

Indeed, even in states that have yet to pass same-sex marriage legislation, it is possible for same-sex marriages to be legally valid. New York state is the most prominent of the states that accept same-sex marriages, as well as Hawaii. Interestingly, these states forbid the ceremony, but accept marriages from other states.