As the father of four young girls, I have been the witness to innumerable weddings. Our living room has seen marriages between puffalumps and dolls, between a wide variety of stuffed animals and even between two of my daughters (one of them pretending to be a man, of course).
One thing that made the frequency of these weddings of interest was the disdain in which my daughters viewed the boys in their lives. Marriage is good; boys, most certainly, are not.
I found it striking that my daughters realize the intrinsic goodness of marriage even though they don't have any affection for boys.
As a young boy myself, I never played this wedding game. But as I grew older, I came to see marriage as something desirable. I saw it that way for many years, even though my relationships ended in disappointment. Despite the heartache, despite the long periods of no regular female companion and despite the fact that I always had other good things happening in my life, marriage never lost is appeal.
When Nora and I met when I was 37, it didn't take us long to realize that we wanted to be married to each other.
The marriage that we wanted – and that virtually all couples want – was permanent, exclusive and fruitful. We also wanted some zing to our marriage – and once the kids started arriving we got more of that than we had ever planned.
If the family is the foundation of society then marriage is the foundation of the family. You cannot have a healthy society without healthy marriages. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church notes that "in every culture there exists a certain sense of the dignity of the marriage union, although this is not evident everywhere with the same clarity" (n. 216).
It's true. Marriage not only fulfills a desire of the human heart, it is revered by every society, even if the marriage revered by a society comes in a distorted form such as polygamy.
Of course, society's institutions do not determine the nature of marriage. They cannot modify marriage's traits and purpose. Rather they must respect and protect its essential nature.
Marriage is oriented towards the procreation and education of children. The nature of conjugal love requires that marriage be exclusive and indissoluble. Marriage as an institution in society is seriously undermined by infidelity and divorce.
Marriage also requires mutual public consent. Arranged marriages where the couple's consent is not free and genuine is a distortion of marriage. So are common law liaisons which are rooted in a notion of marriage as solely the private concern of the couple.
As well, marriage must be between persons of the opposite sex. A "same-sex marriage" cannot be fruitful according to God's plan for human dignity. Nor can it reflect the complementary nature of male and female.
Although the nature of marriage is one thing, people who live in distorted situations – divorce, common law relationships or homosexual unions – still must be treated with respect and dignity.
But "the civil community cannot remain indifferent to the destabilizing tendencies that threaten its foundations at their very roots" (n. 229). Marriage is of intrinsic value and needs to be revered by society. My daughters have implicitly understood that with their play weddings and society has understood it too.
The Church, however, has an even higher view of marriage than what one should expect of civil society. Not only does the Church see marriage as a communion of life between two people, it also sees Christian marriage as a sacrament.
Christian marriage is an occasion of grace and it mirrors the love God has for humanity. It is a covenant between two people just as God has offered a covenant in Jesus to all humanity.
Christ has taken the water of marriage and turned it into the wine of a sacrament pointing towards everlasting life.