From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The proposal of marriage is an event where one person in a relationship asks for the other's hand in marriage. If accepted, it marks the initiation of engagement. It often has a ritual quality, sometimes involving the presentation of an engagement ring and a formalized asking of a question such as "Will you marry me?". In western culture, it is traditional for the man to propose to his girlfriend, as opposed to the other way around, while kneeling before her, and sometimes physically putting the ring on her finger, as opposed to merely giving it to her. Often the proposal is a surprise.
The average duration of preceding courtship varies considerably throughout the world. (See courtship duration.)
In many Western cultures, the tradition has been for the man to propose to the woman. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, 29 February in a Leap day is said to be the one day when a woman can propose to her partner. As a monarch, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom had to propose to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Finland has the same custom, with the addition that a man rejecting such a proposal was expected to buy his suitor enough cloth for a skirt as compensation. Although still rare, a woman will occasionally propose to a man. Women proposing has reportedly become more common in recent years, with jewelry companies even manufacturing engagement rings for men.
In many cultures, it is traditional for a groom to ask the bride's father for permission before proposing.
Proposals made on or around special occasions are common in many cultures throughout the world. It has been reported that as many as 14 percent of proposals are made at sporting events.
With the advent of same-sex marriages, traditional customs regarding the gender of the person who is expected to propose do not have any application.