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A marriage is a socially, sometimes religiously, and often legally recognized union between or among partners forming a family, legitimizing sexual relations between the partners and procreation. Marriages are generally publicly declared in the context of a wedding ceremony. The precise nature and characteristics of marriage have varied widely over time, and across cultures.
Marriage as an institution traces back into antiquity and is found in nearly every culture. Usually it is understood to join a man and woman (who in their marital roles are termed the "husband" and "wife" respectively; generically they may be referred to as "spouses") in a monogamous marriage. Polygamous marriage, in which one person takes more than one spouse, is ancient, but is now common only in Africa and Asia; polygyny (a man with multiple wives) is the typical form of polygamy, while polyandry (in which a woman takes several husbands) is rare.
Marriages may be mediated by religious or political institutions and are generally bound by conventions which establish rights and privileges, and which establish limits of consanguinity and other restrictions. It is often characterized as a contractual state and engaged as such. Marriages may be formally ended through divorce, or may be annulled if improperly formed.
Purposes of marriage include security (derived from the solemn commitment to longevity in the relationship), companionship, procreation, child education and development, economic collaboration, and social stability. It affects assignment of rights to property and inheritance, aids in providing identity (particularly to children), and is often the means by which surnames or family names are carried forward.