Mistress, Concubine, Spouse, Lover or Paramour? The Need for a Cross-Culturally Valid Definition of Marriage

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Anthropology book series (BRIEFSANTHRO, volume 2)


Alliance theory, which is a native model in France, cannot be used for an exotopy of French monogamy. Descent theory, a hallmark of British anthropology, is selected as a heuristic tool to exoticize that matrimonial system. We borrow from Kathleen Gough a definition of marriage well located within descent theory. This definition, which attempts to be universally valid, defines marriage as a relationship between a woman and one or more persons that provides full birth-status rights to a child born to the woman. It has complex ramifications, to which this chapter is devoted, in particular the impossibility of a cross-culturally valid definition to include reciprocal rights between spouses as the defining benchmarks of a marriage. That marriage is to be defined by the birth-status rights of a progeny may seem odd, but French law about a child born out of an incestuous liaison confirms the relevance of Gough’s main criteria; it imposes acknowledgment of the child by only one of the two parents, depriving the child of full birth-status rights and thus prohibiting the incestuous liaison to be transfigured into a marriage. Gay activists are also fully aware of the connection between birth-status and marriage; they demand marriage rights that allow them to co-adopt a child so that the latter has two legal parents and, as a consequence, full-birth status rights. In the next chapter we analyze, in the light of Gough’s definition, the new birth-status rights given in France to nomarital children and their consequences on this country’s matrimonial options.


Civil Code Heterosexual Couple Lesbian Couple Civil Union Male Homosexual Couple 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Concordia UniversityMontrealCanada

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