Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 November 2011
Marriage and family practices around the world are embedded in a rich matrix of cultural norms, generated by legal rules, religious traditions, and social expectations. In homogenous societies, these different normative frameworks reflect widely shared values, reinforcing a common understanding of what marriage and family life should be. In more diverse societies, the range of normative variation expands and individuals may face contrasting opportunities and constraints from official and unofficial norms of family behavior.
Some advocates of multiculturalism argue for accommodating the distinct values and traditions of religious or other minority groups through a formal legal pluralism in which governments would delegate aspects of state authority over marriage, divorce, and inheritance to separate legal authorities with power to apply their own law to members of their groups. Legal pluralism, in this classic sense, is an artifact of empire and colonialism that has remained important in the contemporary world as a tool for managing deep and persistent cultural and legal differences in post-colonial nations such as India and South Africa.