Virginia, USA

The Commonwealth of Virginia is on the southeast coast of the United States of America. It was one of the 13 colonies founded in North America by the British in the 17th and 18TH centuries. During the American Civil War (1861-65), Virginia was a member of the Confederate States of America and fought against the abolition of slavery. Although the striking range of political opinion in Virginia (as well as its racial and religious diversity) has led to it being called a ‘swing’ or ‘purple’ state in the recent past and a bellweather for national politics, today it is held by the Democrats.

When looked at from a historical perspective, marriage in the US shows changing ideas about what, and who, the US is. The famous and far-reaching 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, resulted in the end of laws that prohibited people of different ‘races’ from marrying. Loving v. Virginia was cited in the 2015 Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalised marriage between same-sex couples.

While headlines and demographics show that the number of people in the US who get married is falling, ethnographic research in Charlottesville and Lynchburg makes clear that marriage matters a great deal to many people in Virginia. People use marriage and weddings to celebrate meeting and falling in love with someone whom they want to formally recognise as family. But these momentous events are also times during which people reflect on their relationships with friends and people from their families of origin (living or deceased), when they might frame a marriage as a commitment to God, and when couples express publicly their priorities and values.