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Religious Limitations on Marriage


Some religious people believe that it is only proper to marry members of their own faith. Indeed, some clergy will not marry a couple unless they are both of the same faith as the clergyman. The reasons for such an outlook, which are becoming increasingly viewed as archaic by a pluralistic society which might see it as intolerance, are numerous and depend upon circumstances.

Influence of the Non-Believer:

This is the scenario often envisioned by critics of limiting marriage according to religion, and certainly it is sometimes the case. Since spouses are expected to listen to and trust one another, the fear here is the non-believing partner will corrupt the believer with false ideas and lead them astray. This is particularly the case within orthodoxic religions, where the focus in on correct belief, with wrong belief potentially leading to dire consequences (such as condemnation to hell).

Harmony in the Home:

Marriage is seen as a partnership with both spouses contributing equally to its upkeep. If spouses come from two different faiths, they are forced to practice separately, which contradicts the expectations of unity in marriage.

Moreover, if the religion has expectations of certain rituals being performed within a household, that responsibility can be complicated immensely by the inclusion of a non-believer. For example, if the husband is expected to perform certain rituals, but the husband doesn't believe, it is highly unlikely the ritual tradition will continue.

Raising of Children:

Children are generally instructed in the religion of their parents. In an interfaith marriage, how the child is going to be raised becomes an important question. In the Catholic church, for example, a Catholic may marry a non-Catholic so long as both parents promise to raise their children as Catholics. Even that troubles some, however, as the religions of both parents will likely be evident in the home and, thus, influential.


Not all religions are all-encompassing, actively seeking converts and spreading a single message to all humanity. Instead, many are specific to an ethnic community. That is why someone can be a “secular Jew”: they are Jewish by ethnicity but do not follow the religion of Judaism. So, sometimes the objection against marrying someone of another religion is also about marrying someone outside of the ethnic community and the potential loss of ethnic identity. To return to the Jews, for example: membership within the community is traditionally determined by the mother. If a Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman, their children are not inherently Jewish according to conservative branches of Judaism.


When multiple groups of people live in close proximity, assimilation to some degree always occurs. That is to say that each group starts borrowing ideas and customs from other groups. When your group is a minority group, there is a high likelihood that eventually many of your traditions will erode away as practices more common to the area are adopted.

The movement of conservative Muslims to the West is one example: the longer they live in the West, the more likely they are to wear Western clothing. Their children are even more likely to consider traditional practices to be archaic and adopt Western ones such as modern clothing, socializing between genders, appreciation of popular music, and non-use of the Arabic language. To continue with traditional practices is a much more active and conscious choice than in the Middle East where it is the common culture.

For some minority groups, assimilation is seen as a threat to the survival of the community. Many Zoroastrians, who may number as few as 200,000 today, forbid marriage to non-Zoroastrians in the fear that the Zoroastrian spouse will start adopting the customs of the spouse in lieu of Zoroastrian customs. The children then might not be raised as Zoroastrians at all.

The process does not work in reverse, bringing people into Zoroastrianism, because many Zoroastrians do not believe in conversion. You are either born Zoroastrian or you aren't. Thus, it is important for Zoroastrian couples to raise practicing Zoroastrian children so that their traditions – not to mention their cultural identity - continue unadulterated.

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