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Irregular marriage: myth and reality

Gordon, E. (2013) Irregular marriage: myth and reality. Journal of Social History . ISSN 0022-4529 (doi:10.1093/jsh/sht041) (Early Online Publication)

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Abstract

This article examines the historiography, the law, and the practice of irregular marriage in Britain. It argues that there has been a confusion of terms in the historiography of irregular marriage that has served to obscure its meaning, pattern, and incidence. Using evidence from Scotland where irregular marriage continued to be legally valid until 1939 (with one form remaining legally valid until 2006), the article argues that despite its legally valid status, the interpretation of what constituted irregular marriage was extremely limited and that it served as a de facto or functional equivalent to civil marriage.

In the formal legal sense Scotland had stood virtually alone amongst Western European countries in enshrining simple exchange of consent as sufficient basis for marriage. However, in practice Scotland was very similar to other countries in what was regarded as acceptable forms of contracting marriage and the same stigma was attached to informal or irregular unions that we see elsewhere. However, as elsewhere, the majority of people conformed to the legal rules and the legal paradigms of marriage, but equally there was no neat correspondence between legal codes and social practice with ordinary people adopting a more flexible definition of marriage than the official one.

Item Type:Article
Status:Early Online Publication
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s):Gordon, Prof Eleanor
Authors: Gordon, E.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Economic and Social History
Journal Name:Journal of Social History
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:0022-4529
ISSN (Online):1527-1897
Published Online:4 November 2013
First Published:First published in Journal of Social History
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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