From Bouvier's, 1856:Marriage. Legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. Singer v. Hara, 11 Wash.App. 247, 522 P.2d 1187, 1193. Marriage, as distinguished from the agreement to marry and from the act of becoming married, is the legal status, condition, or relation of one man and one woman united in law for life, or until divorced, for the discharge to each other and the community of the duties legally incumbent on those whose association is founded on the distinction of sex. A contract, mutually engage with each other to live their whole lives (or until divorced) together in state of union which ought to exist between a husband and wife. The word also signifies the act, ceremony, or formal proceeding by which persons take each other for husband and wife.
From Jones' Blackstone (Commentaries on the Laws of England, by Sir William Blackstone, KT.)Marriage. A contract made in due form of law, by which a free man and a free woman reciprocally engage to live with each other during their joint lives, in the union which ought to exist between husband and wife. Bye the terms freeman and freewoman in this definition are meant, not only that they are free and not slaves, but also that they are clear of all bars to a lawful marriage. Dig. 23, 2, 1; Ayl. Parer. 359; Stair, Inst. tit. 4, s. 1; Shelford on Mar. and Div. c. 1, s. 1.
I've got a lot more information on this, particularly from Jones' Blackstone and, of course, Holy Scripture. I will expand if readers request it. Notice in all of the above, the liberal sprinkling of the word "person". Much about the jurisdictional divide between civil and ecclesiastical law, and yet civil law recognizes disabilities which run contrary to God's Law.§ 582. Marriage.—The second private relation of persons is that of marriage, which includes the reciprocal rights and duties of husband and wife ; 1 or as most of our elder law books call them, of baron and feme. In the consideration of which I shall in the first place inquire, how marriages may be contracted or made ; shall next point out the manner in which they may be dissolved; and shall, lastly, take a view of the legal effects and consequence of marriage.
§ 533. 1. Marriage, a civil contract—a. Ecclesiastical jurisdiction over marriage.—Our law considers marriage in no other
light than as a civil contract. The holiness of the matrimonial state is left entirely to the ecclesiastical law : the temporal courts not having jurisdiction to consider unlawful marriage as a sin, but merely as a civil inconvenience. The punishment, therefore, or annulling, of incestuous or other unscriptural marriages, is the province of the spiritual courts; which act pro salute animæ (for the welfare of the soul). And, taking it in this civil light, the law treats it as it does all other contracts: allowing it to be good and valid in all cases, where the parties at the time of making it
were, in the first place, willing to contract; secondly, able to contract ; and, lastly, actually did contract, in the proper forms and solemnities required by law.
§ 584. b. Consent of the parties. First, they must be willing to contract. "Consensus non concubitus, facit nuptias (Consent, not cohabitation, makes the marriage)," is the maxim of the civil law in this case:b and it is adopted by the common lawyers,0 who indeed have borrowed (especially in ancient times) almost all their notions of the legitimacy of marriage from the canon and civil laws.
§ 585. c. Capacity of the parties.—Secondly, they must be able to contract. In general, all persons are able to contract themselves in marriage, unless they labor under some particular disabilities, and incapacities. What those are, it will here be our business to inquire.
§ 586. (1) Disabilities — (a) Canonical disabilities. — Now, these disabilities are of two sorts : first, such as are canonical, and therefore sufficient by the ecclesiastical laws to avoid the marriage in the spiritual court ; but these in our law only make the marriage voidable, and not ipso facto void, until sentence of nullity be obtained. Of this nature are pre-contract ; consanguinity, or relation by blood; and affinity, or relation by marriage; and some particular
corporal infirmities. And these canonical disabilities are either grounded upon the express words of the divine law, or are consequences plainly deducible from thence: it therefore being sinful in the persons, who labor under them, to attempt to contract matrimony together, they are properly the object of the ecclesiastical magistrate 's coercion ; in order to separate the offenders, and inflict penance for the offense, pro salute animarum (for the welfare of their souls). But such marriages not being void ab initio (from the beginning), but voidable only by sentence of separation, they
are esteemed valid to all civil purposes, unless such separation is actually made during the life of the parties. For, after the death of either of them, the courts of common law will not suffer the spiritual court to declare such marriages to have been void; because such declaration cannot now tend to the reformation of the parties. And therefore when a man had married his first wife's sister, and after her death the bishop's court was proceeding to annul the marriage and bastardize the issue, the court of king's bench granted a prohibition quoad hoc (as to this) ; but permitted
them to proceed to punish the husband for incest. These canonical disabilities being entirely the province of the ecclesiastical courts, our books are perfectly silent concerning them. But there are a few statutes, which serve as directories to those courts, of which it will be proper to take notice. By statute 32 Hen. VIII, c. 38 (Marriage, 1540), it is declared, that all persons may law fully marry, but such as are prohibited by God's law; and that all marriages contracted by lawful persons in the face of the church, and consummate with bodily knowledge, and fruit of children, shall be indissoluble. And (because in the times of popery a great variety of degrees of kindred were made impediments to marriage, which impediments might, however, be bought off for money) it is declared by the same statute, that nothing (God's law except) shall impeach any marriage, but within the Levitical degrees; the furthest of which is that between uncle arid niece.' By the same statute all impediments, arising from pre-contracts to other persons, were abolished and declared of none effect, unless they had been consummated with bodily knowledge : in which case the canon law holds such contract to be a marriage de facto. But this branch of the statute was repealed by statute 2 & 3 Edw. VI, c. 23 (Mar
riage, 1548). How far the act of 26 Geo. II, c. 33 (Clandestine Marriages, 1753), (which prohibits all suits in ecclesiastical courts to compel a marriage, in consequence of any contract) may collaterally extend to revive this clause of Henry VIII 's statute, and abolish the impediment of pre-contract, I leave to be considered by the canonists.
§ 587. (b) Civil disabilities.—The other sort of disabilities are those which are created, or at least enforced, by the municipal § 587. (b) Civil disabilities.—The other sort of disabilities are those which are created, or at least enforced, by the municipal...
In spite of all historical precedent, in the United States, the definition of marriage now apparently includes: "A loosely defined special partnership between two or more persons, given certain special protections under the law (for now)," and perhaps even "Whatever Obama wants it to mean." However, I would caution that words, just like weights and measures, ought to have fixed meanings and not be corrupted.