Marriage is not regarded very highly nowadays. The institution of marriage has been savaged for some time, and the attacks look set to continue for quite a while. Alternative lifestyles and political correctness have taken their toll on marriage, and many marriages are simply falling apart. Thus both the idea of marriage, as well as individual marriages, are under real pressure.
Those who seek to stand up for the primacy of marriage are often dismissed as living in the past, or trying to foist a religious argument on a secular society. There is no case for marriage, we are assured. All kinds of relationships are as valid as marriage, it is said, and we should not discriminate against those who do not marry.
But is this in fact true? Is there no case to be made for marriage, at least without religious underpinnings?
Dennis Prager thinks not. He has written a piece in the latest Townhall.com (October 3, 2006) in which he gives “Five non-religious arguments for marriage over living together”. He begins with these words: “I have always believed that there is no comparing living together with marriage. There are enormous differences between being a ‘husband’ or a ‘wife’ and being a ‘partner,’ a ‘friend’ or a ‘significant other’; between a legal commitment and a voluntary association; between standing before family and community to publicly announce one’s commitment to another person on the one hand and simply living together on the other.”
Here then are his five reasons. First, “no matter what you think when living together, your relationship with your significant other changes the moment you marry. You have now made a commitment to each other as husband and wife in front of almost everyone significant in your life. You now see each other in a different and more serious light.”
Second, words do make a difference: “They deeply affect us and others. Living with your ‘boyfriend’ is not the same as living with your ‘husband.’ And living with your ‘girlfriend’ or any other title you give her is not the same as making a home with your ‘wife.’ Likewise when you introduce that person as your wife or husband to people, you are making a far more important statement of that person’s role in your life than you are with any other title.”
Third, legal recognition also is important: “Being legally bound to and responsible for another person matters. It is an announcement to him/her and to yourself that you take this relationship with the utmost seriousness. No words of affection or promises of commitment, no matter how sincere, can match the seriousness of legal commitment.”
Fourth, marriage is a major milestone and event in your circle of relationships: “There is no event, no occasion, no moment in your life when so many of the people who matter to you will convene in one place as they will at your wedding. Not the birth of any of your children, not any milestone birthday you may celebrate, not your child’s bar-mitzvah or confirmation. The only other time so many of those you care about and who care about you will gather in one place is at your funeral. But by then, unless you die young, nearly all those you love who are older than you will have already died.”
Fifth, marriage draws two families together in a unique relationship: “Only with marriage will your man’s or your woman’s family ever become your family. The two weddings transformed the woman in my son’s life into my daughter-in-law and transformed the man in my daughter’s life into my son-in-law. And I was instantly transformed from the father of their boyfriend or girlfriend into their father-in-law. This was the most dramatic new realization for me. I was now related to my children’s partners. Their siblings and parents became family. Nothing comparable happens when two people live together without getting married.”
Still, people will argue that marriage is only a piece of paper. But if it really is merely paper, why the fear of entering into marriage? Why the hesitancy to tie the knot?
Concludes Prager: “When you realize all that is attainable by marrying and unattainable by living together without marrying, you have to wonder why anyone would voluntarily choose not to marry the person he or she wishes to live with forever. Unless, of course, one of you really isn’t planning on forever.”
Marriage is a vitally important institution. More scholarly and thorough defences of it have been made. But the brief comments offered here remind us that there really is something unique and special about the marriage bond. It may be falling out of favour for many, but still for millions of people worldwide it remains an ideal state to aspire to, and an institution that has stood the test of time.