Published: March 15, 2013

Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear challenges to two major laws on marriage — California’s Proposition 8 and the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act. Both define marriage as between a man and a woman, and both have sparked heated arguments over what marriage should mean in America today.

Of course, those arguments have a history. So in this hour of BackStory, we look at how past generations of Americans have defined and redefined marriage. We explore the 20th century origins of marriage counseling (and its dark side), as well as a panic over child brides that swept across the country in the late 1930s. We also take a look at how the experience of marriage changed for enslaved people after Emancipation. And we visit a modern-day wedding in Elkton, MD — the former get-hitched-quick capital of America.