The modern term “social monogamy” describes a certain concept of partnership: Social monogamy includes a cohabiting “twosome” (couple), having sex exclusively with one another and sharing economic resources. Hence, today monogamy covers sexual faithfulness as well as emotional and economic reliance and the dependency of one partner. In European societies, this type of partnership is often equalled to marriage. ‘Marriage’ means gaining a legal status in the eyes of the state. In some European countries, the recognition of this type of partnership is linked to specific benefits.
It still is unknown whether our early ancestors were monogamous or not. At least it is known that under the influence of Christian church many countries passed laws promoting heterosexual social monogamy as the only legal form of marriage. In medieval times not everybody was allowed or could afford to marry. We still do not know a lot about how those people shaped their relationships. Since we know there was restricted access to marriage, it can be assumed that even in medieval times there had been various types of partnerships in addition to marriage.
In the 14th century, especially after the plague in
As early as 1884, Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) described the two main functions of monogamous marriage as a social institution in his work “The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State” :First, monogamous marriage ensures that property/wealth is passed down to biologically related offspring. Second, monogamous marriage traps women in a life of unpaid domestic and childrearing labour. The monogamous family is based on the supremacy of the man and its main purpose is to produce children of undeniable paternity. (Male) children later inherit their father’s property as his ‘natural’ heirs. Thus, monogamy generally meant that women were sexually faithful while men were still free to have extramarital sex. The idea of love as an aspect of marriage arose in late 18th and early 19th centuries. Romanticism emphasized intuition, imagination and feeling and dispelled traditional economic and family reasons. Nevertheless, the main reason has remained the idea of passing on property to the male line of offspring. Within paternal societies, women of all social classes had no right to choose or reject a groom. With marriage the husband gained legal power over his wife and her property. Aristocratic women could choose to spend their lives in a convent - which at least protected them from an undesired husband.
Even though the idea of marriage and the monogamous family has changed over the centuries and alternative forms of partnerships have become more visible, in 1979 the United Nations promoted social monogamy as the preferred form of marriage: “The African Women’s Rights Protocol is the only human rights treaty to explicitly articulate the choice of Monogamy as the “preferred form of marriage’. It is also the only one to assert the widow’s right to child custody, inheritance and the right to remarry a person of her choice.” (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women CEDAW; adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979). They argued that only in monogamous families can men and women gain equal rights since polygamy allows only men the right to several spouses.