Insulting marriage

It was bound to happen.

Two men, Travis McIntosh and Matt McCormick, got married Sept. 12 in New Zealand. The problem: They are heterosexual best friends who were looking to win a radio station contest and go to the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.

The “bromance wedding” featured a celebrant dressed as Darth Vader, a streaker and a wedding cake decorated with a rugby ball. The newly wedded couple denied the charge of pro-gay marriage groups that they were “mocking the institution of marriage.”

The couple said that they never intended to offend. In what sounds a bit like New Age wedding vows, McIntosh said, “We are not here to insult anyone. We are here to do our own thing and travel our own path.”

The story underscores a point I have long been making: Heterosexuals have been doing a darn good job all on their own of devaluing marriage both as institution and as sacrament.

Where does one start? The growing rates of cohabitation, of divorce, of serial monogamy, the willingness to accept extramarital sex: These are all signs that the culture has been walking away from traditional marriage for decades.

Long before New Zealand’s rugby spouses, pop culture has reflected a debased understanding of marriage. Exhibit one in my book is the twin television features “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.”

Once upon a time there was “The Dating Game,” in which the point was simply to go on a date. Fast forward four decades and it is a steamy marriage cattle call.

Over 12 years and a combined total of 27 seasons, the designated male or female gets to sample, reject, waffle and finally choose a potential mate as a nation looks on. Most couples never make it to the altar. A handful get married. But the entire process is a manufactured soap opera, turning marriage into a prize equivalent to winning “America’s Got Talent” or “Wipe Out.”

The argument can be made that the audience does not take the spectacle seriously. My daughters would gather with friends to laugh at the proceedings, which I suppose is a positive acknowledgement of the insufferable shallowness of this entertainment. Being more of a traditionalist myself, I just find the whole concept embarrassing.

Marriage remains a cultural ideal, perhaps, but the question that even many Catholics are asking is how many people now wed with any serious intent to make it a lifelong commitment. While thousands of dollars are spent on the wedding day, far less thought goes into the lifetime of days to follow. Yet social science tell us that cohabitation and frequent sexual partners dramatically reduce the likelihood that a marriage will last, even as popular wisdom counsels that sampling the field is the way to ensure longevity.

As gay marriage, like cohabitation, becomes more common, social scientists will eventually start looking behind those numbers at rates of marriage, divorce, cohabitation and abuse. For now, they have plenty to look at among heterosexuals.

As for Catholics, our great blessing is the sacrament of marriage. On Sept. 14, Pope Francis witnessed the marriage of 20 couples and concluded his homily with these words:

“The path is not always a smooth one, free of disagreements; otherwise it would not be human. It is a demanding journey, at times difficult, and at times turbulent, but such is life! Marriage is a symbol of life, real life: it is not ‘fiction!’ It is the sacrament of the love of Christ and the Church, a love which finds its proof and guarantee in the Cross.”

Words you’ll never hear on “The Bachelor,” but true nonetheless.

Greg Erlandson is OSV’s president and publisher.