Developing a just society based on equity and equal opportunities for all with respect for diversity.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Marriage

Abdulai Alhassan and Patrycja Krus

Marriage is a union between two people who have decided to come together to share their lives. It is however important to understand that marriage varies across various cultural, religious and traditional differences. We will be comparing Catholic marriage from a European perspective to marriage in a Ghanaian context in terms of the procedures involved. This blog seeks to examine marriage from a cross-cultural perspective based on specifically heterosexual relationships. The cultural dynamics of marriage will be explained in terms of the following factors: the age for marriage, marriage processes, rights of spouses and how marriages end.

Marriage in Ghana
Marriage in Ghana occurs among consenting adults of at least 18 years old. As a result, a sexual activity with people under 18 years is considered an offence. Accordingly, any child that under the age 18 who becomes pregnant is considered teenage pregnancy which is unacceptable and detrimental to the socio-economic and physiological development of the child. However due to limited knowledge on sexuality and sexual rights among the teenagers, teenage pregnancy is rampant especially in the northern part of Ghana. In terms of procedure, there are two broad classification of marriage—marriage under the ordinance and customary marriage. However, attention will be focused on the customary also known as traditional marriage. This is to show the traditional and cultural practices that surround this type of marriage.
Customary marriage process in Ghana starts with the initiation of proposal from any of the partners (usually the man). The proposal initiation starts right from the first day of their interaction. In the traditional setting, the man has to go to the woman’s house and declare his love for her. The woman is not obliged to answer in affirmative, most particularly not instantly. She has the right to decide whether she is interested or not. However, a female child may be assigned to a man at birth. In such a case when the child grows up, she has no choice than to marry the man she was given to at birth. This is forced marriage, and NGOs in Ghana are working to eradicate it.
After the acceptance of proposal, the next step is for the partners to make themselves known to their respective families for scrutiny. This is to ensure that each partner has no criminal record or deadly and disgraceful diseases. This period of investigation is known as courtship in Ghana. Among the southern ethnic groups, the partners can live together during this period. This practice is not common among the ethnic groups in the northern part of Ghana.
After a satisfactory investigation by each partner, the man is made to pay a bride price. Depending on the ethnic group, the bride price comprises items such as money, drinks, cola nuts, animals or parcel of land. The items are presented by the man’s family to signify that the groom is capable of taking care of the bride. Acceptance of the bride price also symbolizes the consent of the woman’s family. Marriage cannot be consummated until the bride price is accepted.
Official handing over of the woman to the husband is next after the bride price is accepted. At this point the woman’s family invites the man’s family to come for the woman as their wife. During this meeting the two families share cola nuts and wine together. The partners would then decide whether to organize the wedding in either the traditional way or the religious way (Christian or Islamic).
After marriage, the woman moves to the man’s family house or their own apartment to begin a new life. At this moment each partner is given his or her responsibility. The man is responsible for provision of food and basic needs for the family. He is also supposed to cater for the needs of the wife. The woman on her part is to do the domestic house chores such as preparing food, washing of clothes and dishes etc. Both partners are to respect each other’s view. However the woman is supposed to be submissive to the husband likewise the husband is to be the breadwinner of the family.
In Ghana the main reason why people get married is for childbirth. As a result, infertility on the part of either of the partner can result in breakdown of marriage. However, religiously this not allowed.

Catholic Marriage in Europe
The sacrament of marriage in the Catholic Church is the marriage contract between two baptized persons of the opposite sex. It is monogamist. Each person acquires the exclusive right over the body of the other for the purposes of procreation. Marriage ends with the death of either person. The sacrament of marriage is regulated by divine law, church law, and civil law. The Roman Catholic Church does not perform or recognize same-sex marriages.
People in the Catholic religion get married to cherish love in front of the eyes of God. No one, neither a man nor a woman, can be forced in any way to join that union. The marriage is blessed union between two people based on their free will and best intentions. Marriage is a holy sacrament and it cannot be undone. A Catholic can marry just one person and is expected to remain with them till the end of their life; however the Vatican has allowed some exceptions.
A Catholic is allowed to get divorced and remarry again in Church if they obtain a so called ‘Decree of Nullity’, which is a judicial decree from the Church issued at the end of a process studying the details of a marriage to determine if at the time of consent (the day of the marriage) there was some element of marriage required under Canon Law that was missing, resulting in a defective or invalid marriage.  If the decree is affirmative, both parties would be able to be married in the Church.  If negative they would not be able to seek marriage in the Church. There are many different and sometimes complex grounds for granting a Decree of Nullity, including:  force or fear, intention against fidelity, children or permanence, error regarding essential elements of marriage, inability to assume the obligations of marriage and others. The Decree of Nullity is very rare to be sanctioned.
The Catholic Church requires engaged couples to participate in marriage preparation. This affords couples the opportunity to develop a better understanding of  marriage; to evaluate and deepen their readiness to live married life; and to gain insights into themselves as individuals and as a couple. It is especially effective in helping couples to deal with the challenges of the early years of marriage. Marriage preparation programmes help couples to understand the Christian and the human aspects of marriage. Typical topics include: the meaning of marriage as a sacrament; faith, prayer and the church; roles in marriage; communication and conflict resolution; children, parenthood and natural family planning; finances; and family of origin.


Throughout our investigation about marriages Ghanaian and European Catholic cultures we realise that there are so many differences in approaches and reasons for two people to get together. However what is most important to both is that marriage is a holy union in front of God’s eyes. 

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