Consummation or consummation of a marriage, in many traditions and statutes of civil or religious law, is the first (or first officially credited) act of sexual intercourse between two people, either following their marriage to each other or after a prolonged sexual attraction. Its legal significance arises from theories of marriage as having the purpose of producing legally recognized descendants of the partners, or of providing sanction to their sexual acts together, or both, and amounts to treating a marriage ceremony as falling short of completing the creation of the state of being married. Thus in some Western traditions, a marriage is not considered a binding contract until and unless it has been consummated.
These formal and literal usages support the informal and less precise usage of the word "consummation" to refer to a sexual landmark in relationships of varying intensity and duration.
England and Wales
Under section 12 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, a refusal or inability to consummate a marriage can be grounds for the marriage to be voided in England and Wales. Paragraph 4 of schedule 4 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 specifically excludes non-consummation as a ground for the annulment of a same-sex marriage.
Within the Roman Catholic Church, a marriage that has not yet been consummated, regardless of the reason for non-consummation, can be dissolved by the pope. Additionally, an inability or an intentional refusal to consummate the marriage is probable grounds for an annulment. Catholic canon law defines a marriage as consummated when the "spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh." Thus some theologians, such as Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., state that intercourse with contraception does not consummate a marriage.
- Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (c. 18), s. 12
- Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (c. 30), Sch. 4 para. 4, coming into force 13 March 2014 by S.I. 2014/93 art. 3(j)(i)
- canons 1697-1706
- canon 1061 §1
- Hardon, S.J., John. "Consummated Marriage". Pocket Catholic Dictionary. Image Books. p. 91. ISBN 0-385-23238-1.