Married, not institutionalized

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 5, 2005

What does the word institution mean to you? Some of the first things I think about when I hear that word are structure, organization, rules and boundaries. And while the dictionary defines institution in various ways, its first listing is much different than my first impression.

The definition states: “A custom, practice, relationship or behavioral pattern of importance in the life of a community or society.”

So, what am I getting at? Well, one of the most common institutions in our society today is the institution of marriage. There are debates about almost every aspect of marriage, from minimum age requirements (16 years in Alabama) to same-sex marriage. But sadly, one of the most overlooked aspects of marriage is its goodness.

In a time when every other couple you know is getting divorced, it is often hard to find a reason to commit to marriage. Why are all these marriages failing?

Most would argue that the media is partly to blame. One can’t help but agree when celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt and Britney Spears are marrying and divorcing faster than they can say “prenuptial agreement.”

What happens, though, when the celebrities are taken out of the picture? Why are everyday people getting divorced? Reasons can be serious or trivial, varying from intimacy issues, infidelity, abusiveness and even boredom. In recent years, divorce has become most easily accessible. Some states even allow one spouse to divorce the other without any notification.

While there are underlying issues in each couple’s case, marriage just isn’t taken as seriously as it once was. To many people, marriage is nothing more than a wedding ceremony with gifts and a honeymoon to boot.

But in reality, marriage gives couples a support system, a shoulder to cry on, a best friend when no one else will understand, a partner to share their life with and bring children into the world.

Though marriage is definitely a custom and practice that is important in our society, maybe we shouldn’t look at it as an institution. More than likely, there are others who think of my definition of institution before the dictionary’s comes to mind.

In the minds of Americans, and Alabamians specifically, I hope marriage is more than a binding contract with boundaries and rules. Yes, it is a serious matter, but we should look at it as the blessing that it is, rather than a burden.