The original human baseline concept of marriage was found with some relatively slight variations in every culture of Old Earth. Originally, human baseline marriages were between a man and a woman. More rarely, they were contracted between a man and two or more women, and even more rarely between a woman and two or more men, usually two men who were brothers. Mate choice preceding the marriage was somewhere on the continuum between a love match and a marriage arranged by parents or community elders, depending on a variety of cultural and economic factors. Marriages contained the following elements:
a) An alliance for mutual legal, financial, emotional, and social support (sometimes this extended to the couple's kinship groups).
b) Cohabitation, either permanent or on a regular basis.
c) Sexual satisfaction.
d) Procreation and the raising of children.
In most traditional societies of Old Earth, the absence of one or more of these often led to the dissolution of the marriage, by formal or informal means. By the late Information Age, reproduction had become an option rather than the general rule. Moreover, the rise of wage paid jobs, together with the availability of labour-saving devices and the option to hire out services (via restaurants, construction contractors, cleaning services, etc.) made mutual alliance a matter of convenience rather than survival. The marriage memeplex began to break into its component parts under the impact of these changes, although cultural inertia and the force of innate human drives allowed the central idea to survive. The addition of new technologies and new sapient life forms further eroded the concept. Most societies did not solidify new traditions and laws to meet these changed circumstances until well after the Nanoswarms Era.
Marriage in various forms is common in the modern age. This may be because the majority of beings in the Terragen sphere are of human derivation, whether by direct descent, by design, or through provolution. Conversely, there are many clades in which any form of marriage is irrelevant given their programming and/or biology. This is particularly true of xenosophonts. Prior to Terragen contact, some of these were familiar with the concept only through study of subsapient life forms that had pair-bonding instincts. Attempts in the past to force some form of marriage on non pair-bonding clades and species through memetic engineering have typically failed in the long term.
In some clades and cultures, marriages are arranged by other parties. At the S<1 level, those other parties may be parents, clan elders, a specialized community council, or even the local government. Such arrangements are most common where resources are limited and inheritance is an issue. Particularly draconian customs have prevailed in small orbital habitats or early in the colonization of hostile environments. In a few polities today, matches are made by agents of the ruling Archailect. In yet others, prospective parties seek the aid of expert systems, or even the advice of interested S>1 beings, in choosing a match. In most such polities this is purely voluntary, since it tends to give very satisfactory results, but in a few of these places marriages have no legal standing unless they have received S>1 or other AI approval.
Most polities recognize several grades of marriage, according to which of the basic memetic components (alliance, cohabitation, sex, reproduction, and exclusivity) are present, and according to the number and kinds of participants. To avoid social and legal confusion, there are contracts and customs for each local variant. A single component of the memeplex is usually not sufficient for the union to be recognized as a marriage, though it may have a social or legal definition of its own such as "room mate", "friend", "gigolo", or "business partner". For instance Faber reprogroups, Tavi mobs, and the polygamous domestic arrangements of typical gorilla provolve clades such as among the Ngagi are regarded as marriages, whereas the life-long alliances sometimes formed between adult chimpanzee provolves are usually not. Marriage in the Old Earth sense remains common in human nearbaseline societies, although given the extended lifetimes of modern times serial monogamy is typical regardless of the social ideal.
As on Old Earth, enforcement of marriage agreements is maintained by a combination of legal and social sanctions. Ironically, given the "non-coercive" boast in the region's name, the highest legal component is found in NoCoZo polities, where according to the dominant memetic every aspect of every relationship is governed by formal quid pro quo agreements. When questioned concerning this, NoCoZo citizens usually bypass the issue of the fines and other penalties, and point out the extraordinary flexibility of their arrangements, with optional clauses to cover every contingency.
Cross-clade marriages are possible, though are not common except between the most closely related clades. Usually the biological/hardware and mental/software differences are so great that such desires to not arise in the first place. If they do arise, the parties involved often require professional assistance to establish and maintain the relationship, and yet more assistance if they desire to produce offspring. Usually success is achieved by limiting or eliminating some aspects of the complete marriage memeplex. For instance, consider the case of a human baseline who becomes emotionally attached to the extent of participating in a Faber reprogroup. While she might be a member socially and financially, and could provide design assistance, and memory uploads for the new generation of Fabers, and help to raise and educate them, she might derive sexual satisfaction from contact with other humans, possibly even to the extent of being a partner in a regular human marriage outside the reprogroup. Obviously arrangements such as this have serious pitfalls. Reproductive Counsellors are a commonly accepted feature in many polities.
There have been cases of marriage between lower level transapients and nearbaselines, though what meaning the transapient partner actually attaches to such a relationship is purely speculative. Offspring are possible from such unions if the S>1 partner creates an appropriate avatar.
Some S>1 entities claim to have formed liaisons which include all of the standard elements of a marriage plus one or more others. Attempted explanations to S<1 entities concerning the additional concepts behind such "marriages" are confusing and contradictory, and unsatisfying to the nearbaseline mind.
Some patterns of marriage Monogamy — marriage between two persons only. Includes marriages between opposite sexes (still the most common among human derived clades), same sex marriages, marriages between hermaphrodites and asexual marriages.
Polygamy — the adoption of many wives by one male; common among prim and retro human societies and the default condition in some clades of tweaks, rianths and provolves. Male domination of a breeding group is common among mammalian provolves; among alien xenosophonts the situation is more complex. Polygamy is sometimes adopted in order to increase the population of a small colony rapidly by natural methods.
Polyandry — the adoption of many husbands by one female. Common among early clone societies; a clone colony often had need of male workers specialized for heavy labour. Since the early days of the Terragens expansion most human clades have developed so that there is little difference between male and female strength and stamina, so polyandry has become a lifestyle choice. Marriages between members of clades with more than two sexes (such as the Genen Keymales) are known as trigamous, quadrigamous, and so on.
Polygynandry, or group marriage, is common amongst group minds (such as the Unity sect) amongst clones and amongst certain provolves, but can occur as a lifestyle choice among many other clades.
Exogamy, or cross-clade marriage, is now defined as marriage between clades or species which would not normally produce viable offspring without technological help.
- Animarec - Text by Michael Beck
Recordings of a person's general personality type, their madnesses, and sanities, and all those tiny little neuroses that make up who we are interacting to determine what we do. They can only be made thanks to the power of neural-recording nanotech, and in some cultures and polities they are a standard part of any marriage agreement or hiring somebody.
- Reproductive Counselors - Text by John B
A fairly quiet professional group of sophonts are usually self-titled 'reproduction counselors.' These sophonts are identified as having received training in assisting cross-clade reproduction. This group is widely scattered across the sephirotic empires and many outer rim zones. They are primarily located in areas where multiple clades come into repeated close contact.
- Reproductive Technologies - Text by Tony Jones and the AI Vin