Interfaith marriage, sometimes called a "mixed marriage", is marriage between spouses professing different religions. Although interfaith marriages are most often contracted as civil marriages, in some instances they may be contracted as a religious marriage. This depends on religious doctrine of the two parties' religions; some of which prohibit interfaith marriage, but others allow it in limited circumstances.
Several major religions are mute on the issue, and still others allow it with requirements for ceremony and custom. For ethno-religious groups, resistance to interfaith marriage may be a form of self-segregation.
In an interfaith marriage, each partner typically adheres to their own religion, but an important point is in what faith the children will be raised.
According to Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, men and women who have attained the age of majority have the right to marry "without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion". Although most of Article 16 is incorporated verbatim in Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the references to religious and racial limitations is omitted. Article 17, clause two of the American Convention on Human Rights says that all men and women have the right to marry, subject to the conditions of domestic law "insofar as such conditions do not affect the principle of nondiscrimination established in this Convention."
Interfaith marriage in Judaism was historically viewed with disfavor by Jewish leaders, and it remains controversial. The Talmud and poskim prohibit non-Jews to marry Jews, and discuss when the prohibition is from the Torah and when it is rabbinical. In 1236, Moses of Coucy encouraged Jewish men who had married Christian or Muslim women to divorce them. In 1844, the reform Rabbinical Conference of Brunswick permitted Jews to marry "any adherent of a monotheistic religion" if children of the marriage were raised Jewish. This conference was controversial; one of its resolutions called on members to abolish the Kol Nidre prayer, which opens the Yom Kippur service. One member of the conference later changed his opinion, becoming an opponent of intermarriage.
Traditional Judaism does not consider marriage between a Jew by birth and a convert as intermarriage; Biblical passages which apparently support intermarriage, such as that of Joseph to Asenath and Ruth to Boaz, were regarded by classical rabbis as having occurred after the non-Jewish spouse had converted. Some still considered Canaanites forbidden to marry even after conversion, although this did not necessarily apply to their children.
Orthodox Judaism refuses to accept intermarriage, and tries to avoid facilitating them. Conservative Judaism does not sanction intermarriage, but encourages acceptance of the non-Jewish spouse by the family in the hope that such acceptance will lead to the spouse's conversion to Judaism. In December 2014 the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's United Synagogue Youth controversially modified a binding rule that its leaders would not date non-Jews, replacing it with a "recogni[tion of] the importance of dating within the Jewish community."
Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism do not generally regard the authority of classical rabbis; many rabbis from these denominations are willing to officiate at interfaith marriages, although they try to persuade intermarried couples to raise their children as Jews. In 1870, some Reform Jews published the opinion that intermarriage is prohibited.
In 2015 the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College voted to accept rabbinical students in interfaith relationships, making Reconstructionist Judaism the first movement within Judaism to allow rabbis to have relationships with non-Jewish partners. Humanistic Judaism is a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life, defining Judaism as the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people. The Society for Humanistic Judaism answers the question, "Is intermarriage contributing to the demise of Judaism?" on its website: "Intermarriage is the positive consequence of a free and open society. If the Jewish community is open, welcoming, embracing, and pluralistic, we will encourage more people to identify with the Jewish people rather than fewer. Intermarriage could contribute to the continuity of the Jewish people."
During the early 19th century, intermarriage was relatively rare; less than one-tenth of one percent of the Jews of Algeria, for example, practiced exogamy. Since the early 20th century, rates of Jewish intermarriage have increased. In the United States from 1996 to 2001, nearly half (47 percent) of marriages involving Jews were intermarriages with non-Jewish partners (a similar proportion—44 percent—as in the early 20th century in New South Wales).
In Hinduism, spiritual texts like Vedas and Gita do not speak of caste and interfaith marriages. However, law books like Manusmriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti, and Parashara speak of marriage rules among various kulas and gotras. Manusmriti versions are numerous as the original is not preserved but it represents one of the oldest attempts to formally regulate the secular society of India. It is not a religious text. According to the varna system, marriage is normally between two individuals of the same varna. Ancient Hindu literature identified four varnas: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. In ancient India, this varna system was strictly professional division based on one's profession. With time, it became a birthright. According to Manusmriti, partners in an intra-gotra marriage should be shunned as it is an equivalent of a sibling marriage shunned. In rural parts of modern-day India, which is mainly conservative, follows this rule, while Hindus living in the cities and abroad often accept the inter-caste marriage.
Some gurdwaras allow weddings between a Sikh and a non-Sikh, but others oppose it. In 2014, the Sikh Council in the UK developed a consistent approach towards marriages in Gurdwaras where one partner is not of Sikh origin, following a two-year consultation with Gurdwara Sahib Committees, Sikh Organisations, and individuals. The resulting guidelines were approved by the General Assembly of Sikh Council UK on 11 October 2014, and state that Gurdwaras are encouraged to ensure that both parties to an Anand Karaj wedding are Sikhs, but that where a couple chooses to undertake a civil marriage they should be offered the opportunity to hold an Ardas, Sukhmani Sahib Path, Akhand Path, or other service to celebrate their marriage in the presence of family and friends. Some gurdwaras permit mixed marriages, which has led to controversy.
Some traditional Zoroastrians in India disapprove of and discourage interfaith marriages, and female adherents who marry outside the faith are often considered to be excommunicated. When a female adherent marries a partner from another religion, they go through the risk of not being able to enter the Agyaris and Atash Behrams. In the past, their partner and children were forbidden from entering Zoroastrian religious buildings; this is often still observed. A loophole was found to avoid such expulsion: the offspring (especially born out of wedlock) of a Parsi man and a non-Parsi woman were often "adopted" by the Parsi father and tacitly accepted into the religion. Alternatively in a few cases such as that of Suzanne RD Tata, the non-Zoroastrian spouse has been allowed to convert Zoroastrianism by undergoing the navjote ritual  Interfaith marriages may skew Zoroastrian demographics, since the number of adherents is low.
According to Indian law (where most Parsis live), only the father of the child must be a Zoroastrian for the child (or children) to be accepted into the faith. This has been debated, since the religion promotes gender equality (which the law violates). Zoroastrians in North America and Europe defy the rule, and children of a non-Zoroastrian father are accepted as Zoroastrians.
In Christianity, an interfaith marriage is a marriage between a baptized Christian and a non-baptized person (e.g. a wedding between a Christian man and Jewish woman); it is to be distinguished between an interdenominational marriage in which two baptized Christians belonging to two different Christian denominations marry, e.g. a wedding between a Lutheran Christian and a Catholic Christian. Almost all Christian denominations permit interdenominational marriages, and many Christian denominations permit interfaith marriage as well, citing verses of the Christian Bible such as 1 Corinthians 7:14. Apostolic Tradition, an early Christian Church Order, references an interfaith couple in its instructions on Christian prayer at the seven fixed prayer times and the ablutions preceding them, stating:
Around midnight rise and wash your hands with water and pray. If you are married, pray together. But if your spouse is not yet baptized, go into another room to pray, and then return to bed. Do not hesitate to pray, for one who has been joined in marital relations is not impure.
In the Presbyterian Church (USA), the local church congregation is tasked with supporting and including the interfaith couple in the life of the Church, "help[ing] parents make and live by commitments about the spiritual nurture of their children", and being inclusive of the children of the interfaith couple. The pastor is to be available to help and counsel the interfaith couple in their life journey.
The Catholic Church recognizes as sacramental, (1) the marriages between two baptized Protestants or between two baptized Orthodox Christians, as well as (2) marriages between baptized non-Catholic Christians and Catholic Christians, although in the latter case, consent from the diocesan bishop must be obtained, with this termed "permission to enter into a mixed marriage". To illustrate (1), for example, "if two Lutherans marry in the Lutheran Church in the presence of a Lutheran minister, the Catholic Church recognizes this as a valid sacrament of marriage." On the other hand, although the Catholic Church recognizes marriages between two non-Christians or those between a Catholic Christian and a non-Christian, these are not considered to be sacramental, and in the latter case, the Catholic Christian must seek permission from his/her bishop for the marriage to occur; this permission is known as "dispensation from disparity of cult".
In Methodist Christianity, the 2014 Discipline of the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection discourages interfaith marriages, stating "Many Christians have married unconverted persons. This has produced bad effects; they have either been hindered for life, or have turned back to perdition." Though the United Methodist Church authorizes its clergy to preside at interfaith marriages, it notes that 1 Corinthians 6:14 has been interpreted "as at least an ideal if not an absolute ban on such [interfaith] marriages as an issue of scriptural faithfulness, if not as an issue of Christian survival." At the same time, for those already in an interfaith marriage (including cases in which there is a non-Christian couple and one party converts to Cristianity after marriage), the Church notes that Saint Paul "addresses persons married to unbelievers and encourages them to stay married (see 1 Corinthians 7:12–16)."
In orthodox Sunni Islam, a primary legal concern is that the offspring of an interfaith marriage between a Muslim a non-Muslim are to be Muslim offspring, and raised as such. Sharia, thus, has differing regulations on interfaith marriage, depending on, firstly, what is the gender of the prospective intermarrying Muslim, and secondly, what non-Muslim religion is adhered to by the person that a Muslim is seeking to intermarry with. While orthodox Sunni Islamic Law permits a Muslim man to marry up to four women, the preference is that one or all of his wives be Muslim. If he intermarried with a non-Muslim, one or more of the four allowed wives may be non-Muslim women provided that they are from among the People of the Book (i.e. female Christians or female Jews). Additionally, they must have been chaste, and orthodox Islam mandates that all children be brought up Muslim. Beyond this exemption, a Muslim man may not intermarry with females who are not from among the People of the Book unless they convert to Islam (which is not required of Christian females and Jewish females). Thus, Muslim men are prohibited from intermarrying, for instance, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, etc., as well as pagans or atheists, unless the woman converts to Islam. If they did, however, convert, it would no longer be considered intermarriage, but a marriage between Muslims, and thus not prohibited. In the case of a Muslim-Christian marriage, which is to be contracted only after permission from the Christian party, the Christian spouse is not to be prevented from attending church for prayer and worship, according to the Ashtiname of Muhammad, a treaty between Muslims and Christians recorded between Muhammad and Saint Catherine's Monastery.
The tradition of progressive Islam permits marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men; Islamic scholars opining this view include Khaleel Mohammed, Daayiee Abdullah, Hassan Al-Turabi, among others.
On the other hand, according to the orthodox understanding of interfaith marriage in Islam, Muslim women are forbidden from intermarrying based on Islamic law. This is understood to be irrespective of whether or not she wishes to marry a male from among the People or the Book (i.e. a male Christian or Jew) or a male of any other religion. Based on this interpretation, this would not apply if the non-Muslim man converted to Islam, as the Muslim woman would no longer be considered to be intermarrying, but marrying a Muslim man. Additionally, she may only be married to one Muslim man at any one time (i.e. she may not have multiple husbands at the same time). The Quran states, “And do not marry Al-Mushrikaat (idolatresses) till they believe (worship Allaah Alone). And indeed a slave woman who believes is better than a (free) Mushrikah (idolatress), even though she pleases you. And give not (your daughters) in marriage to Al‑Mushrikoon till they believe (in Allaah Alone) and verily, a believing slave is better than a (free) Mushrik (idolater), even though he pleases you. Those (Al-Mushrikoon) invite you to the Fire, but Allaah invites (you) to Paradise and forgiveness by His Leave, and makes His Ayaat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) clear to mankind that they may remember”[al-Baqarah 2:221]
Early jurists in the most-prominent schools of Islamic jurisprudence ruled in fiqh that the marriage of a Muslim man to a Christian or Jewish woman is makruh (disapproved) if they live in a non-Muslim country. Umar (634–644) denied interfaith marriage to Muslim men during his command of the ummah. According to the Quran,
Today the good things are made lawful for you, and the food of the ones to whom the Book was brought is lawful to you, and your food is made lawful to them. And (so) are believing women in wedlock, and in wedlock women of (the ones) to whom the Book was brought even before you when you have brought them their rewards in wedlock, other than in fornication, neither taking them to yourselves as mates (i.e., girl-friends). And whoever disbelieves in belief, (i.e., the religion) then his deed has been frustrated and in the Hereafter, he is among the losers. (Surah 5:5)
Scholar Ahmad Kutty of Toronto has expressed disapproval of interfaith marriage, citing Umar. According to scholar Bilal Philips, the verse permitting Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women is no longer valid for several reasons (including its misinterpretation). Canadian Islamic scholar Shabir Ally has also said that it is makruh for a Muslim man to marry outside his religion. This prohibition preserves and expands Islam in patriarchal, multi-faith societies. It ensures that over a number of generations, Islam would gain in numbers relative to other religions.
If a non-Muslim woman married to non-Muslim converts to Islam, the marriage is suspended until her husband converts to Islam; she could theoretically leave the non-Muslim husband and marry a Muslim one, analogous to the Pauline privilege for Catholic Christians. If the non-Muslim husband converts, a new marriage is not needed. According to the Quran,
O ye who believe! When there come to you believing women refugees, examine (and test) them: Allah knows best as to their Faith: if ye ascertain that they are Believers, then send them not back to the Unbelievers. They are not lawful (wives) for the Unbelievers, nor are the (Unbelievers) lawful (husbands) for them. But pay the Unbelievers what they have spent (on their dower), and there will be no blame on you if ye marry them on payment of their dower to them. But hold not to the guardianship of unbelieving women: ask for what ye have spent on their dowers, and let the (Unbelievers) ask for what they have spent (on the dowers of women who come over to you). Such is the command of Allah. He judges (with justice) between you. And Allah is Full of Knowledge and Wisdom. (Surah 60:10)
According to the Baháʼí Faith, all religions are inspired by God and interfaith marriage is permitted. A Baháʼí ceremony should be performed with the non-Baháʼí rite (or ceremony). If both ceremonies are performed, the non-Baháʼí ceremony should not invalidate the Baháʼí ceremony; the Baháʼí partner remains a Baháʼí, and is not adopting the religion of the other partner in the ceremony. The Baháʼí partner should also abstain from vows (or statements) committing them to a declaration of faith in another religion or that are contrary to the principles of the Baháʼí Faith. The two ceremonies should be performed on the same day; their order is not important. The Baháʼí ceremony may be performed in the place of worship of the other religion if it is afforded respect equal to the non-Baháʼí ceremony and is clearly distinct from the non-Baháʼí ceremony.
In orthodox Serer religion (an ethnoreligious faith), interfaith and interracial marriages are forbidden. Banishment and disinheritance may be levied against a Serer who disobeys the law. The Serer-Noon (a sub-group of the Serer people) adhere strongly to this teaching.
In modern times various composers have written sacred music for use during interfaith marriage ceremonies including:
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... most Christian churches support members who take part in intermarriage, citing 1 Corinthians 7:12-14.
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The Catholic Church considers marriages of baptized Protestants to be valid marriages. So if two Lutherans marry in the Lutheran Church in the presence of a Lutheran minister, the Catholic Church recognizes this as a valid sacrament of marriage.
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We might remind ourselves here that a marriage between a Catholic and a baptized person that takes place in the Catholic Church, or in another Church with permission from the diocesan bishop, is a sacramental union. Such a marriage is a life-long union and no power on earth can dissolve it.
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Supernatural marriages exist only between baptized people, so marriages between two Jews or two Muslims are only natural marriages. Assuming no impediments, marriages between Jews or Muslims would be valid natural marriages. Marriages between two Protestants or two Eastern Orthodox also would be valid, presuming no impediments, but these would be supernatural (sacramental) marriages and thus indissoluble.
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The Quran speaks favourably of the people of the Book. For example, Surah 3, verse 199, carries a universal message of goodwill and hope to all those who believe, the people of the Book irrespective of their religious label--Christian, Jew or Muslim. Muslims can marry with the people of the Book,
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- Strange Wives: Intermarriage in the biblical world, Stanley Ned Rosenbaum and Allen Secher [forthcoming]
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