From New World Encyclopedia
Othello and Desdemona from William Shakespeare's Othello, a play concerning a biracial couple.

Intermarriage is the marriage between two people of different backgrounds. This background can be either religious (such as a Christian marrying a Jew) or racial (such as an Asian person marrying a person of African descent). Views towards each type of intermarriage have evolved throughout history, although each remains controversial in certain sects of modern society.

Intermarriage is a form of exogamy, or marrying outside of one's social group. Whether that group is defined by religion, race, or other difference, the difference is a barrier that is not easy to cross. When historical meetings of the groups have led to conflict and violence, the fear of the other becomes hatred and the barrier almost impenetrable. Marrying and producing children across such a barrier is difficult if not unthinkable and impossible.

With increasing contact between different peoples of the planet, views towards inter-religious and inter-racial marriage have changed considerably. Many such marriages have taken place, and the children, while still experiencing some isolation, have begun to find their place in the world. In fact, it may be that the effect of intermarriage is to overcome the barriers and tensions between those of different social groups through the bonding of new familial groups. Such families may be the foundation of a happier world of peace and harmony.


Frederick Douglass with his second wife Helen Pitts Douglass (sitting) who was white, a famous nineteenth century American example of "miscegenation." The woman standing is her sister Eva Pitts.

Intermarriage is the marriage of people from two different religious or racial backgrounds. Participants in intermarriage have faced social difficulties throughout history for various reasons including prejudice, ignorance, and xenophobia. Those whose marriages involve different races have suffered racial discrimination, if not outright rejection by societies in which miscegenation (the mixing of races) was illegal. Those who marry from a different religious tradition may also face rejection, especially if one of the traditions teaches that only those faithful to their beliefs receive salvation and can go to heaven; all others being condemned to eternal hell.

Intermarriage is a form of exogamy, or marrying outside of one's social group. With increasing contact between different peoples of the planet, relationships and marriages that cross racial and religious boundaries have become more common. However, couples and the children of intermarriage face issues of social isolation and lack of definitive cultural identity.

Interreligious Marriage

Religion is a difficult subject to broach for romantically involved couples. Crossing religious lines for the sake of marriage was once, and still is, considered by some to be an act of apostasy. The traditional view of promoting marriage within one's faith community stems from the fact that religion has traditionally dominated culture and social life, so to wed someone outside of this group would be wholly alien. There are still many reasons why religion acts as a barrier to marriage:

  • Some religions view their rules on marriage as commandments from God.
  • In a few religions adherents view themselves as a priestly people, with a specific mission to carry out.
  • Some people believe that introducing two contradictory belief systems into a marriage is grounds for marital strife, and increases the rate of divorce.
  • Some believe that having parents of two different religions causes psychological stress on the children in such a marriage, as they often are effectively forced to "choose" one parent's faith over another.
  • Religious intolerance leads some to believe that a person professing a different faith is considered incompatible and not worth marrying.
  • There is the possibility of temptation to "wrong" practices by the "outsider" spouse, as well as the possibility of the children growing up in the "other" faith, or torn between two faiths.
  • Some religions, such as the Druze religion, are closed communities and do not accept new members, whether through marriage or through conversion.

When a man and a woman professing different religions want to marry, and the religious laws of the faith upheld by one of them forbid this, they might:

  • abandon the relationship and seek a partner of their own faith,
  • consider the conversion of one spouse,
  • live as if married with no ceremony,
  • have a purely civil marriage ceremony, or
  • if one of the two religions does allow interreligious marriage, hold the wedding according to the ritual of the accepting religion.

These opinions are shifting, however. Increased foreign travel and a trend towards secularism have de-emphasized the importance of religion in the lives of many. Attitudes towards inter-religious marriage are becoming more liberal in the developed world, removing the once powerful stigma that may have suppressed inter-religious marriages in the past. Many see intermarriage as a good opportunity for diversity and are in fact attracted to others specifically because they are not members of their own religious sect. While some may only be interested in experiencing something different, for others intermarriage is seen as a way to break down barriers and bring harmony between different faith communities.

Views of religions on interreligious marriage


Intermarriage in Judaism is informed by two basics of Jewish law. First, the child of a Jewish woman is considered to be Jewish, regardless of the faith of the father, while, historically, the child of a male Jew and a female non-Jew is not. Second, a Jewish marriage is, by definition, a contract between two Jews, involving a Ketubah or Jewish prenuptial agreement. This states that the husband commits to provide food, clothing, and marital relations to his wife, and that he will pay a specified sum of money if he divorces her. If he dies and leaves her as a widow, she can collect the Ketubah money from his estate. The Ketubah is considered an integral part of a Jewish marriage. Intermarriage under strict Jewish law is therefore not only forbidden, but actually impossible.

Orthodox Judaism strictly forbids interreligious marriage as well as any sexual intercourse with a member of a different faith. Secular intermarriage is seen as a deliberate rejection of Judaism, and an intermarried person is effectively cut off from most of the Orthodox community.

Conservative Judaism rejects intermarriages as being a violation of halakha (the collective corpus of Jewish religious law), and as causing severe demographic harm to the Jewish people. Conservative rabbis are not allowed to perform intermarriages. However, the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism has a more nuanced understanding of this issue than does Orthodoxy. The Conservative movement has stated:

In the past, intermarriage … was viewed as an act of rebellion, a rejection of Judaism. Jews who intermarried were essentially excommunicated. But now, intermarriage is often the result of living in an open society. If our children end up marrying non-Jews, we should not reject them. We should continue to give our love and by that retain a measure of influence in their lives, Jewish and otherwise. Life consists of constant growth and our adult children may yet reach a stage when Judaism has new meaning for them. However, the marriage between a Jew and non-Jew is not a celebration for the Jewish community. We therefore reach out to the couple with the hope that the non-Jewish partner will move closer to Judaism and ultimately choose to convert. Since we know that over seventy percent of children of intermarried couples are not being raised as Jews...we want to encourage the Jewish partner to maintain his/her Jewish identity, and raise their children as Jews. (Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism, Statement on Intermarriage. Adopted on March 7, 1995)

Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism (known internationally as Progressive Judaism) discourage intermarriage, but, since they do not view halakha as binding, they have no mechanism for legal prohibition of the practice in the manner of the Conservative and Orthodox movements. Progressive rabbinical associations have no blanket prohibition on their members officiating at intermarriages. As a result, some Progressive Rabbis do perform such weddings without fear of the sanction faced by their Conservative counterparts. Intermarried Progressive Jews are encouraged to raise their children in the Jewish faith, and to become part of the local Jewish community, even if the Gentile partner does not convert to Judaism. Gentile spouses of Jews are welcome in Progressive synagogues as long as they do not proselytise.


Many Christians believe that anyone has the freedom to choose her or his partner for life, and that love has no boundaries. This attitude is found most often among those who may be identified as progressive or liberal Christians.

Some Christian denominations forbid interreligious marriage, drawing from 1 Corinthians 7 and 2 Corinthians 6:14, and in some cases Deuteronomy 7:3. The Mormon Church emphasizes the doctrine of "celestial marriage" in which two people are eternally bound through marriage. Mormons believe this celestial marriage can only occur between members of the Mormon church, and thus oppose interreligious marriage for their faithful.

The Catholic church requires permission for mixed marriages, which it terms all unions between Catholics and baptized non-Catholics, but such marriages are valid, though illicit, without it: the pastor of the Catholic party has authority to grant such permission. Marriages between a Catholic and an un-baptized person are not sacramental, and fall under the impediment of disparity of worship and are invalid without a dispensation, for which authority lies with the ordinary of the place of marriage.

Bahá'í Faith

According to the Bahá'í Faith, all religions are inspired by God, therefore interreligious marriage is allowed. In that case, the Bahá'í ceremony should be performed, and the non-Bahá'í rite or ceremony can also be performed. If it is the case that both ceremonies are performed, the non-Bahá'í ceremony should not invalidate the Bahá'í ceremony and it should be made clear to all that the Bahá'í partner is a Bahá'í and is not accepting the religion of the other partner by going through with the ceremony. The Bahá'í partner should also abstain from undertaking any vows or statements that commit the Bahá'í to any declaration of faith in another religion or that are contrary to the principles of the Bahá'í Faith. The two ceremonies should happen on the same day, but the order is not important. The Bahá'í ceremony may be performed in the place of worship of the other religion provided that it is given equal respect to that of the non-Bahá'í ceremony and is clearly distinct from the non-Bahá'í ceremony.


Hinduism declares that there are always innumerable paths to God, and that one’s belief or perception of God is an individual matter and best left to the individual to decide his own path.

Thus, Hindus have never hesitated to respect the freedom of other faiths to coexist and flourish and so interreligious marriages are accepted in Hindu society. It also does not put any obligation of faith on the non-Hindu partner. Inter-caste marriages were, however, problematic, but this too is becoming more acceptable with time. In metropolitan cities it is common to find couples with different faith, caste, and regional background. There are numerous laws in the Indian legal system, safeguarding interfaith marriage. Examples of such marriages occasionally appear in Rudyard Kipling's stories.


Islam allows a man to marry a non-Muslim only if she is Christian or Jewish. The wife need not adopt any Muslim laws, and the husband is not allowed to keep her from going to church or synagogue. The early jurists of the most prominent schools of Islamic jurisprudence ruled in Fiqh law that the marriage of a Muslim man to a Christian or Jewish women is mukruh (reprehensible) if they live in a non-Muslim country. The Caliph Umar (634–644) denied interfaith marriage for Muslim men during his command of the ummah.

Fiqh also forbids Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men, although there is nothing in the Qur'an nor the Sunnah that explicitly prohibits such unions. Some Muslim scholars go so far as to state that such a marriage is an act of apostasy, but with the growing number of such marriages, this position is being questioned. In some Muslim countries, if a non-Muslim woman is married to a non-Muslim, and she converts to Islam, the marriage is suspended until her husband converts to Islam. When he converts a new marriage is not needed.

Interracial Marriage

Interracial marriage was formerly seen as grounds for shunning members of some societies. Xenophobia and outright racism bred close-minded laws and social mores against miscegenation. The taboo against interracial marriage has been largely lifted worldwide today as the world shrinks through easier travel and globalization. Love has proved incentive enough for many to overcome the barriers placed by a jealous old guard opposed to mixed marriages.

United States

A black/white couple enjoying a moment during their wedding on the beach in Monterey, California

In Social Trends in America and Strategic Approaches to the Negro Problem (1948), Gunnar Myrdal ranked the social areas where restrictions were imposed by Southern whites on the freedom of African-Americans through racial segregation. Ranked from the least to the most important were found to be: jobs, courts and police, politics, basic public facilities, “social equality” including dancing, handshaking, and most important, marriage. This ranking scheme seems to explain the way in which the barriers against desegregation fell. The segregation in basic public facilities, seen as of less importance than intermarriage, was abolished with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The most tenacious form of legal segregation, the banning of interracial marriage, was not fully lifted until the last anti-miscegenation laws were struck down in 1967.[1]

Interracial couples have made up an increasingly large percentage of the population of all American married couples. In 1960, 0.4 percent of all married couples were interracial. In 1992, 2.2 percent of all couples were interracial.[2]

United Kingdom

As of 2001, two percent of all UK marriages were inter-ethnic. Despite having a much lower non-white population (nine percent), mixed marriages are as common as in the United States. For example, Black British men are significantly more likely to have non-black wives than African American men; 18 percent of UK black African husbands, 29 percent of UK black Caribbean husbands, and 48 percent of other Black British husbands have a wife from a different ethnic group.[3]

According to the UK 2001 census, Black British males were around 50 percent more likely than black females to marry outside their race, whereas British Chinese women were twice as likely as their male counterparts to marry someone from a different ethnic group. Among British Asians (South Asians, not including Chinese), Pakistani and Bangladeshi males were twice as likely to to have an inter-ethnic marriage than their female counterparts, while Indian and "Other Asian" males were more likely to have an inter-ethnic marriage than their female counterparts by a smaller percentage.

In Africa

Indian (Asian) men have married many African women in Africa. Indians have long been traders in East Africa. The British Empire brought workers into East Africa to build the Uganda Railway. Indians eventually populated South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Rhodesia, and Zaire. These interracial unions were mostly marriages between Indian men and East African women.[4]

In Asia

Many Asian cultures, such as China and Korea have indelibly strong familial ties, which have often emphasized marriages that will satisfy all of the members of the family. As a result of this tight family network, marriage to outsiders has been seen as taboo. For example, in Japan, non-ethnic Japanese residents have been called gaijin (meaning outsiders) and discriminated against in marriage and other relationships. This norm is changing as large Asian nations take their place in the world stage.

Arranged intermarriages

While arranged marriages are traditionally contracted among families within the same community; far-sighted leaders have employed arranged marriages to bind together disparate cultures and nationalities in their realms. The most notable of these was Alexander the Great, (356-323 B.C.E.) from Macedonia, who in the year 324 B.C.E. married 10,000 of his officers to Persian women. The mass wedding, held at Susa, was a model of Alexander's desire to consummate the union of the Greek and Iranian peoples.

In modern times, Reverend Sun Myung Moon advocates cross-cultural arranged marriages as a means of peace-building. Couples from enemy nations who work out great differences in the crucible of married life are said to contribute to the resolution of their nations’ historical and cultural conflicts. Thus, Reverend Moon has acted as a matchmaker for thousands of young people who have volunteered to participate in the breaking of racial, national, and religious barriers. The couples recognized the challenge of creating harmony between each other despite their different nationalities, cultures, and historical memories, as a way to contribute to the reconciliation between their lineages.

Intermarriage Today

Views towards inter-religious and interracial marriage have evolved considerably over time. What once was an un-thought of transgression against one's family and culture is now commonplace. Many argue that intermarriage has a beneficial effect in society by decreasing inter-religious and interracial tensions through the bonding of familial groups in marriage. Despite this, many mixed marriages still face persecution and discrimination by those not accepting of their lifestyles.


  1. Loving v. Virginia University of Michigan. Retrieved August 15, 2007.
  2. Race of Wife by Race of Husband US Census.
  3. Inter-Ethnic Marriage: two percent of all marriages are inter-ethnic. National Statistics. (2005). Retrieved August 23, 2007.
  4. Jotawa: Afro-Asians in East Africa. Color Q World. Retrieved September 1, 2006.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Gardner, Leroy. 2001. White/Black Race Mixing: An Essay on the Stereotypes and Realities of Interracial Marriage. Minneapolis, MN: Paragon House Publishers. ISBN 1557787964
  • Kornbluth, Doron. 2003. Why Marry Jewish: Surprising Reasons for Jews to Marry Jews. Targum/Feldheim. ISBN 1568712502
  • Root, Maria. 2001. Love's Revolution: Interracial Marriage. Temple University Press. ISBN 1566398266
  • Silverstein, Alan. 1995. It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Intermarriage: Jewish Concerns about Intermarriage. Jason Aronson/Rowman Littlefield. ISBN 1568215428
  • Yancey, George. 2003. Just Don't Marry One: Interracial Dating, Marriage, and Parenting. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press. ISBN 081701439X

External Links

All links retrieved March 4, 2018.


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