Lexico defines “endogamy” as “the custom of marrying only within the limits of a local community, clan or tribe;” and “exogamy” as “the custom of marrying outside a community, clan or tribe.”
On the other hand, “homogamy” is “marriage between people from similar sociological or educational backgrounds;” while “hypergamy” is “marrying or forming a sexual relationship with a person of a superior sociological or educational background.”
While cousin marriage is considered a taboo in many places, in some cultures, it is allowed and sometimes encouraged.
Proponents of endogamy emphasize that it strengthens unity in the group, while supporters of exogamy argue that exogamy unites various groups. But many still insist that marrying a person living next door is better than marrying a stranger from another town, state or country.
A paper, “Racial, Educational, and Religious Endogamy in the United States” by Michael J. Rosenfeld of Stanford University, points out: “First, endogamy has declined sharply over the 20th century, but race is still the most powerful division in the marriage market. Second, higher education has little effect on racial endogamy for Blacks and whites. Third, the division between Jews and Christians is still strong, but the division between Catholics and Protestants in the marriage market has been relatively weak since the early 20th century. Fourth, educational endogamy has been relatively stable over time.”
We asked our panel about endogamy versus exogamy. Here’s what they have to say:
Sherif A. Elfass, member, Northern Nevada Muslim Community
There is a difference between religious mandates and culture norms. Islam encourages Muslims to marry Muslims, but it did not restrict it to be only within the Islamic faith. It `does, however, prohibit Muslims from marrying nonbelievers. Islam considers believing in the existence of one God and His books is essential for generating the common understanding and shared principles required for a healthy and prosperous marriage. With this in mind, Muslim men are allowed to marry Christians and Jews (People of the Book) but cannot marry polytheistic women (Quran 5:5). Muslim women, however, are restricted to marry Muslim men (Quran 2:221) for reasons discussed in a previous article. Culturally, Muslims used to prefer to marry from the same tribe, country, ethnicity and region. However, this tradition has been fading away over the years, especially in urban areas and within highly educated communities. Nevertheless, it still exists in few Muslim countries.
Daniel H. Mueggenborg, bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno
The Catholic Church strongly discourages the enforced practice of endogamy since it diminishes the freedom of individual(s) to marry their divinely intended spouse. When practiced, endogamy is usually based on ethnic, cultural or racial considerations rather than religious factors as was recently manifested in the controversial Knanaya Church in India (coincidentally, I am a classmate of Bishop Michael Mulhall who investigated this practice on behalf of the Vatican).
In short, people should be free to marry without geographical or tribal borders preventing them from it.
With that said, Catholics are encouraged to marry spouses who share the same or similar religious beliefs since shared faith means shared values, which can help them navigate difficult situations and decision in marriage and family life. Sharing a common faith also provides mutual encouragement and incorporates a spiritual dimension to their marriage that can become an opening of grace when they most need it.
Matthew T. Fisher, resident priest, Reno Buddhist Center
Buddhism has no rules about intermarriage or requirements to only marry another Buddhist. A person should follow their best judgment in choosing a life partner. Often the advice of wise friends is also helpful when making important life choices. Younger people should seek out the advice of their elders to help make a good choice. In American immigrant Buddhist communities, the first generations were unlikely to intermarry, but later second and third generations were more relaxed about the practice.
Challenges exist when people of different faiths marry. Of utmost importance is mutual respect. If each partner can respect and support the other in their faith journey this is the best state of affairs. Buddhism recognizes that each individual has a unique spiritual journey — a path to follow toward fulfillment and ultimately enlightenment. We recognize this path may include relationships and connections to other faith communities.
Micheal L. Peterson, northwest Nevada media specialist, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
I favor endogamy as a general rule because I have seen firsthand the difficulty that presents itself to those who have chosen to marry outside of their faith or race. The family is the fundamental unit in society and is necessary for its health and growth. The primary responsibility of a parent is to teach their children, but what do you teach when the belief systems of the parents are so different? “Let the children choose for themselves,” you say, but to do that presents confusion and stress upon the children looking for guidelines and security in their life, not responsibility for life-changing decisions and further conflict for the family in addition to the normal pressures of life. Research suggests that the average divorce rate in this country now hovers near 50%, a sad commentary for our nation. The divorce rate for an LDS temple marriage is approximately 19%.
Dawn M. Blundell, senior pastor, Epworth United Methodist Church, Fallon
This question has led to some deep thinking. I don’t have a real sense of “tribe” because my own white, Anglo, suburban, mainline Christian community has been the majority where I have lived, by far. I certainly have always felt free to marry whomever I pleased. So, my first instinct was to say that my faith tradition has no opinion on this. But of course, it does; it’s just so rarely challenged that it remains hidden. “Do not be unequally yoked” is the phrase I’ve heard used as a warning in more conservative Christian circles: Be sure you marry someone who comes from a similar culture, and has the same faith and values as you do. The reasoning is that it reduces the potential for conflict. It’s less overt in my moderate/progressive bubble, and the repercussions for deviation somewhat less severe, but it’s there too.
Karen A. Foster, minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada
We as Unitarian Universalists are a diverse lot of individuals religiously, theologically, spiritually. We have in our midst participants who identify with many different religious backgrounds and current practices. These include Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan, Christian and others. Many identify only as Unitarian Universalist. Unitarian Universalism is a “living tradition” rather than a closed canon. Though we have no creed or dogma that we expect everyone to ascribe to, we have recognized Sources that inform our religious and spiritual paths. One of these states that we draw from the “wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.” A conclusion to the Sources states that, “Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision.”
For these reasons, it is common for couples of differing religions to find a home within Unitarian Universalism.
ElizaBeth Webb Beyer, Jewish rabbi
Jewish denominations vary on their approach. Orthodox Jews require marriage to be between Jewish partners. Conservative Jews favor Jewish partners. Yet, in many Conservative synagogues, the reality is that Jewish spouses may be married to non-Jews. A Conservative rabbi is not permitted by the rules governing Conservative rabbis to officiate at mixed marriages.
Reform Judaism accepts marriages between Jews and non-Jews, recognizing that the trend towards mixed marriages. The individual Reform rabbi may or may not choose to officiate when both partners are not Jewish. Any rabbi may also be required by their contract with their synagogue to only officiate at weddings for synagogue members.
My practice is to be an officiant for whoever requests. My hope is for couples to have a positive experience with a welcoming, caring, kind rabbi. Hopefully that will translate into them contacting a rabbi for future spiritual or life-cycle needs.
Stephen R. Karcher, presiding priest, Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church
If the rules of exogamy tell us who we cannot marry, and the rules of endogamy tell us who we can marry, then both of these types of rules operate at the same time in the Church. For example, we discourage and actually prohibit marriages between blood relatives and all collateral blood relatives up until the seventh degree. There are also prohibitions because of other relationships created by marriage, baptism, adoption, holy orders and inter-religious relationships. Apart from these prohibitions, we do not discourage marriage because of differences in social class, ethnicity or race. On the other hand, we actively encourage marriage between couples who share the same religious faith. We keep in mind that these guidelines in our pastoral ministry are meant for the spiritual maturation of the faithful — in other words, to help deliver and heal us of our weaknesses and elevate us spiritually through God’s sanctifying grace.
Nancy Lee Cecil, Baha’i teacher
The Baha’i Faith, the newest world religion, is unique in actively encouraging exogamy. The principle of the “oneness of mankind” prevents any true Baha’i from regarding race as a barrier to marital union; the Baha’i teachings — by their very nature — transcend all limitations imposed by race or ethnicity. They tell us “… we must cast away once and for all the fallacious doctrine of racial superiority, with its attendant evils, confusion, and miseries, and welcome and encourage the intermixture of races …”
Further, Baha’is believe the union of different races has positive outcomes; such intermarriage will “… take root a new generation sound in health and beauteous in countenance.” This beauty is evident to all who have admired mixed-race children!
Finally, when marriage between races becomes commonplace, it will inevitably lead to an end to racism. Abdu’l-Baha tells us “… marriage between these two races will wholly eradicate the root of enmity between them.”
Bryan Smith, lead pastor, Summit Christian Church, Sparks
God prescribed endogamy for the Israelites. God’s chosen people were not to intermarry with tribes around them. The concern was the worship of false gods infiltrating Israel, which it did.
Yet through Jesus, God fulfilled the promise to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all nations. God’s grace was open to all and as Colossians 3:11 tells us, “… there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” The playing field was leveled. But what about a spouse? We are called to not be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14). The point being, we are to be united with someone that will draw us closer to God as they pursue God. Tribe, nationality, even language fall to the wayside. The larger question is how your spouse is following God and how that will strengthen your own discipleship.
Kenneth G. Lucey, philosophy/religion professor emeritus, University of Nevada
My wife was raised Catholic whereas I was brought up as a Methodist. When we decided to marry there was a problem. We needed the permission of the Catholic pastor of Saint Patrick’s Church if we were to marry there. This was important to our parents’ happiness. Getting his permission required a consultation in which as a non-Catholic I made a particular promise — namely that any of our children would be raised Catholic. When our son arrived, he was baptized at the Boston University Newman Center.
In a previous column, I described the “church of the month club” wherein our son attended any religious service that interested him. The result of that upbringing produced a very deeply spiritual young man, despite his not remaining Catholic.
My own view is that human intellectual freedom trumps endogamy. If this practice is called exogamy, then that practice is one I hold strongly.
Next week’s topic: Is music necessary to express worship?
Faith Forum is a weekly dialogue on religion produced by religious statesman Rajan Zed. Send questions or comments to email@example.com or on Twitter at @rajanzed.