Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Group marriage or Circle Marriage is a form of marriage in which more than one man and more than one woman form a family unit, and all members of the marriage share parental responsibility for any children arising from the marriage. Group marriage is sometimes called "true polygamy" or polygynandry, from a combination of the words polygyny and polyandry.
Group marriage is judged by some experts to be rare in traditional societies. Others find this judgement to be unwarranted, since the modern understanding of such societies is less than perfect. Many traditional societies have been nearly or totally destroyed by colonization and other forces. Among the cultures listed in George Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas , only the Caingang people of Brazil practice group marriage as a socially accepted form of marriage, and even among them, it is not the predominant form of marriage.
Group marriage occasionally occurred in communal societies founded in the 19th and 20th centuries. An exceptionally long-lived example was the Oneida Community founded by the Congregationalist minister John Humphrey Noyes in 1848. Noyes taught that he and his followers had undergone sanctification; that is, it was impossible for them to sin, and that for the sanctified, marriage (along with private property) was abolished as an expression of jealousy and exclusiveness. The Oneida commune practiced sexual communalism and shared parental responsibilities, and in effect functioned as a large group marriage until sometime in the period 1879-1881. Kerista Commune practiced group marriage in San Francisco from 1971 to 1991.
Group marriage has been a theme in some works of science fiction- especially the later works of Robert Heinlein's novels, such as Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Both of these books describe a line marriage (see below). Interest in, and practice of, polyamory is well-known in modern science fiction fandom.
It is difficult to estimate the number of people who actually practice group marriage in modern societies, as this form of marriage is not officially recognized in any jurisdiction, and illegal in many; however, it seems likely that its practice is limited to relatively small numbers of people. However, with the legalization of Same-sex marriage in some parts of the United States and Canada, the polyamory movement is talking about a reform movement to allow group marriage.
Variations in Group Marriage
Line Marriage is a form of group marriage in which the family unit continues to add new spouses of both sexes over time so that the marriage does not end. Robert Heinlein described line families in detail in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and may be the format of Valentine Michael Smith's family in the latter parts of Stranger in a Strange Land. Heinlein's characters argue that the line family creates economic continuity and parental stability in an unpredictable, dangerous environment. In the Mistress, Manuel's line marriage is said to be over one hundred years old. The family is portrayed as being economically comfortable because the improvements and investments made by previous spouses compounded, rather than being lost between generations. Heinlein also makes a point of telling the reader that this family is racially diverse.
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