You can’t ask that!

‘Do I even believe in marriage?’

Planning for a wedding can sometimes feel like we’ve stepped into an expensive world of magic or make-believe. The script is helped along by the brainwashing fairytales of our childhoods, where the tortuous challenges of early adulthood give way to the bliss of a wedding – and its promise of happy ever after.

When planning for a wedding, months spent teetering between reality and fantasy, it’s often easier to just suspend belief and go with the flow. But at times uncomfortable thoughts can make the butterflies feel more like bats. Here are two that we sometimes rush to quell:

There really is abundant evidence that people can be in committed and loving relationships and never get married.

And there is also plenty of evidence that many marriages don’t result in a lifetime of commitment, love and support.

In fact, the marriage equality debate has had many asking: in the face of this evidence, why is the right to marry so important? Of course, there are plenty of excellent reasons to change the law to allow marriage equality: the symbolism of the right to marry, as a human right; the need for the law to reflect our changing culture, which increasingly celebrates the diversity of humanity; and to pave a better path to fairer and kinder future.

But how important is the right to actually marry – as opposed to the right to the right to marry? I guess this leads to the almost unutterable question for a celebrant to ask: Does marriage matter?

I am a realist. I don’t mind grappling with difficult questions. And I am in a somewhat privileged position to shed some light on this very good question. I get to stand close to people as they tell each other, in the presence of witnesses, that they take each other as spouse, and what this means to them.

Although each ceremony and each relationship is unique there is something that happens whilst the vows are spoken. There is a palpable but invisible nugget hanging in the air at that time. It is intent. I don’t know of any other life circumstance that produces the same intensity as that moment.

In what can seem like troubling times, week after week I see people generating this incredible moment. The ceremonies I am privileged to be a part of seem to be a powerful force for hope and intent: to be the best interpersonal person I can be; to make mistakes, to stumble – and to try again; and to make with this person a relationship that is good for each of us and that will sustain until one of us dies.

It really feels profound at close range.

At the risk of overusing the term, I think you’d have to call this ‘mindful’ ceremony; and the preparation for this few minutes is the most important preparation in the whole shebang. 

No, we don’t necessarily need a wedding to generate this intent, but the traditions, the institutional context and the symbolism surrounding marriage certainly bring the gravitas needed to inspire deep reflection on self and our significant loving relationship.

Across millennia and cultures, humans have tended towards ceremony to assist in making more tangible those transformative life events. The civil ceremony is unshackled from faith-based institutions, yet even the most personal, idiosyncratic marriage ceremony is part of an ancient ceremonial tradition, tethered by law.  It is cruel and unusual to deny some of us the right to such a universal human tradition.  

Does marriage matter? It certainly can. Thanks for the privilege.