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A four-cornered marriage is a type of group marriage that four people enter into. American science fiction author Robert Heinlein who regularly featured polyamorous characters in his works is usually credited for coining the term.
Most often, a four-cornered marriage involves two men and two women. However, four individuals of any gender and sexuality can enter a four-cornered marriage.
For many people in a quad, a committed polyamorous relationship involving four people, a four-cornered marriage is the next natural step in their relationships. However, some quads may be happy with their relationship status and never enter into a four-cornered marriage.
Just like with a quad, the people in a four-cornered marriage may or may not be sexually involved with all the other members of the relationship, or only select members. However, unlike a quad, there should be a level of emotional involvement between all the individuals in a marriage. This will not necessarily be a romantic love, but it should involve at least a platonic love and commitment. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in the common four-cornered marriage with two men and two women, the two women are more likely to explore a sexual relationship together than the two men, who may simply seek out a type of brotherhood.
It’s important to note that in most parts of the world, the marriage of a four-cornered marriage is not legal, due to restrictions concerning bigamy and other multiple marriages. However, often the people in a four-cornered marriage have a commitment ceremony, which resembles a legal marriage, and then live in similar domestic partnerships. For example, the people in four-cornered marriages may share household chores and expenses, raise children together, and rely on one another for mental and emotional support.