Like our own world, attitudes to sex and marriage vary widely on the Nameless World. What holds true for commoners does not necessarily hold true for aristocrats or magicians. In particular, magicians have (generally) a more progressive attitude to female equality and sexuality in general, a consequence of both female and homosexual magicians possessing power. However, they also have a strong belief in magical bloodlines – in particular, the need to bring fresh blood into the family.
Magicians are not generally concerned about virginity or lack thereof. They do tend to be a little more concerned about children born out of wedlock, as such child sometimes have a claim on family magics or resources. (Void not acknowledging a daughter would make perfect sense to the patriarchs and matriarchs.) A marriage is not so much a way of gaining access to sex as a way of signalling a commitment to raise a family.
The approval of the families (at least of the patriarchs and matriarchs) is generally considered important. A match between two magicians of little significance is likely to go unnoticed, but a match between important magicians can cause problems. The families might already be closely related, or they might have a long-term feud, or one family might be hoping the other will prop it up. Melissa’s marriage would have put a great deal of (eventual) power into her husband’s hands, hence Fulvia’s attempt to dictate who she married. Magicians who elope may be cut off and formally disowned.
There are few limits on who magicians can marry. First cousin marriages are forbidden and second cousin marriages are frowned upon. Parents (and Family Heads) are expected to have a hand in arranging the first marriage, although afterwards their children are considered free entities. To some extent, there is some stigma attached to magicians who choose not to have biological children – a homosexual couple would be expected to find a lesbian couple and make private arrangements or a host mother.
An Engagement is agreed upon by two young or middle-aged magicians who have fallen in love and wish to build a life together. Both magicians will seek the approval of the other’s family – if approval is refused, the magicians can elope and get married anyway … at the risk of being cut off from their family. (This isn’t that much of a threat – a trained magician can make money anywhere.) The formal ceremony is simple, after which they’re married.
A Betrothal is an arranged match between two magicians, planned by the patriarchs and matriarchs. Although these can be planned at any age, they are rarely completely serious (they’re really minor bargaining chips) until the magicians reach marriageable age. At that point, the marriage is usually arranged as soon as possible … assuming both magicians agree to the match. Trying to force a magician into a match can be dangerous, but the patriarchs and matriarchs are quite willing to use all kinds of pressure to convince their children and grandchildren to agree. And someone who doesn’t agree may be disowned, which is – at least in part – a tacit admission that the family as a whole isn’t to blame. (That’s why Markus was kicked out of his family.)
Void received quite a number of requests for Emily’s hand, which he ignored.
In some ways, a Courtship is a cross between an Engagement and a Betrothal.
Like an Engagement, it is started by one of the partners; like a Betrothal, it involves the families right from the start. (Part of the reason it has largely gone out of favour by SIM is that quite a few people regard it as a cumbersome relic.) In many ways, it is an attempt to prove that the active partner (the one who starts it) is sincere in working towards marriage; his parents have already given their approval, he’s willing to open his heart to his partner. And yet, either partner can break it off at will prior to actually exchanging vows.
The current generation of magicians will see a Courtship as either a touching romantic gesture or proof that the active partner is an idiot. There is no guarantee that, upon the first approach being made, that the passive partner will accept it. (Arguably, Caleb muffed up the process … although I don’t think he’s complaining.) If it goes wrong, it can cause bad feelings that linger for generations.
Once a match is agreed, magicians generally broker a marriage agreement between the happy couple and their families. (A couple that elopes might not bother, as they are no longer linked to their family.) The agreement generally formalises the terms of the match and settles the couple’s relative position within the family.
If Markus had married Imaiqah, for example, she would always be considered a subordinate member of the Ashfall Family because she has no magical family of her own. There would be secrets that would never be shared with her, even though they would be shared with her children. Imaiqah would be in a very poor position to bargain. If she separated from Markus, she might well lose formal ties to any children. (Markus would presumably fight for her – and, as he was the Heir, would be in a good position to bargain.)
If Melissa had married Gaius, she would be the formal matriarch (assuming the family chose her) but she would have less power over her husband. Gaius has too many other ties to the Ashworths. To add insult to injury, the agreement would have been written by Fulvia and Gaius’s father, not Melissa herself. She wouldn’t be in a very good place to bargain or demand changes.
(Jade and Alassa are actually a mingled set of traditions … which makes any agreement very complicated indeed.)
Emily and Caleb, as of the end of The Sergeant’s Apprentice, are actually in a bit of a mess. Caleb was not the Heir, so his parents let him open the Courtship without (much) concern for the future. If it succeeded, well and good; if it failed, they lost nothing. Caleb wouldn’t be in a position to inherit, so there would be no concerns about Emily’s suitability. Now, Caleb is the Heir and there is a big question mark over just how Casper died. Nasty tongues wonder if Emily gave him a push in the hopes of clearing the way for her lover.
Assuming Emily and Caleb stay together long enough to get married, they’ll draft out an agreement and get it approved by Caleb’s parents. (Void technically has a say too, but Emily didn’t take that too seriously.) If the agreement is not approved, Caleb will have to decide if he wants to be Heir more than Emily’s husband.