Does marriage still matter?

Anne Lagacé Dowson

Anne Lagacé Dowson


On Cross Country Checkup: Does marriage still matter?

Summer is the season for weddings, and Canada has some of the most inclusive marriage legislation in the world. Yet fewer people than ever are bothering to tie the knot.

Is it still worth saying "I do"?

With guest host Anne Lagacé Dowson, Sunday on Cross Country Checkup.


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About half of us are married--around 48 per cent of the overall population.

And this is the time of year in Canada when many people have their weddings. It is the greenest time and the time when part or all of the proceedings can be held outside.

But the statistics show that fewer people are getting married. And in some places the numbers are dropping even more rapidly. For example, in Quebec where we are broadcasting from today, the numbers of people getting married are half what they are in the rest of Canada.

There is a famous painting by the Quebec artist, Jean-Claude Lemieux called "Wedding in June" -- "Les Noces de Juin" -- the guests done up in their elegant finery are seated at a beautiful table outside on the grass.

It is a hopeful optimistic thing, a June wedding. But the statistics show that many weddings end in divorce. For every two marriages there is roughly one divorce. Marriage is in retreat, especially among the poor and working classes, First Nations people, people of colour and francophones.

More and more people choose to live together as a couple. In Quebec fully one-third of couples simply live together it is quite normal and very common to see long standing and serious common law relationships, complete with children and mortgages.

St. Augustine said, "It is better to marry then to burn." And at one time marriage was the only choice for people. Enormous pressure was put on women, especially, to marry. An unmarried woman was an unfulfilled woman, whereas as an unmarried man was an eligible bachelor.

With the rise of the feminist movement there was harsh criticism of the institution of marriage, and the gilded cage that is imposed on women.

If the numbers of people getting married is dropping, the wedding business is expanding-- the rings, the dress, the shoes, the tux, the stag party, the menu, the registry, the photos, the cake. It can cost fabulous sums of money. And then of course there are the destination weddings. That is when a couple decides to get married in a palazzo in Venice or on the beach in Hawaii. And then they invite their friends to buy an expensive plane ticket to join the celebration.

And of course there has been a bit of a boom in gay marriage with the legal recognition of same sex unions.

Is marriage still relevant? Is it worth all the fuss and bother of a wedding? Are you married? Why? Why not? What is holding you back? is it the expense? Is it something else?

Henry Youngman said, "The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret." If you have been married a long time, is there some light you can shed on that secret?

Our question today: Is marriage still important?

I'm Anne Lagacé Dowson...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.



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On CBC I once heard an interview with a couple celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. The husband was asked the secret to a long marriage, and his profound answer has stuck with me. He said the secret is to "Never both give up at the same time." After 31 years of marriage, I understand him completely. Is marriage still relevant? YES!

Armstrong, British Columbia

The Swedish have the highest percentage of single people, the most gender and wealth equity and are one of the happiest nations in the world. Might there be a correlation?

Saltspring Island, British Columbia

I was getting my haircut by a bride-to-be and we got into a conversation about our weddings. I married my loving husband on Halloween of 2009. It was most definitely the best day of my life! We were married in a church. A lot of that choice had to do with family wishes. It was extremely important to many of our family members. The party was a masked ball at the Chateau Laurier. Candelabras and feathers! We had a fabulous band and many of the talented guests took a turn at the mike. People tell us it was the best wedding they've ever been to (or does everybody say that?)

My attitude towards the ceremony and reception was that it was as much for the community as it was for us. I think that marriages are a community event. It's always important to get together the community. Even to have a quick conversation with a cousin or old friend that you only get to see once in a blue moon. Sometimes the connections you make at these events can change the course of your life.

The stylist asked me what I gave my husband as a gift. Many traditions include giving a gift to your betrothed. I told her that we gave each other our hearts. Mutual Trust, Love, and Respect. Standing in front of all those people and promising that was so memorable, and all those people are now part of our love. That community also helps keep us strong. Without friends and family to surround you, you are alone together.

That's why I think marriages are worthwhile. To bring the community into your love. There has to be love though. Love, trust, and respect. If you don't love each other, don't get married.

Nepean, Ontario

A recent caller, partnered for 21 years, referred to the "commitment" of her relationship. I do not feel strongly about weddings themselves (often more expensive and more competitive than sensible). But a wedding, of whatever size, is a structure for the making of a commitment. It's the commitment that matters. Marriage itself demands that we be committed to making a serious effort to work out the on-going difficulties that are normal in any close relationship. Some people are willing to do this work without a marriage ceremony. Obviously, some people are also unwilling or unable to do the work within a formalized marriage. There's no doubt that it can be hard work. I think it takes courage to stick to that commitment, and therefore courage to enter into it in the first place.

As my spouse and I approach our 30th anniversary, I am grateful to be married to a family therapist. I give him a lot of credit for helping us stick together. In the long run, it has been worth it for both of us, as we deepen this relationship even when it is difficult.

Kelowna, British Columbia

Marriage should no longer be considered relevant by the Government of Canada, and especially not by Revenue Canada. We are now living in the 21st century, but we are still being treated as if this were the 19th century, or even earlier.

Clifton Royal, New Brunswick

I was just married this past June in Ontario. My new husband and I dated for seven years before marriage and were common-law living together for five of those years. It just seemed like the next logical step and a meaningful spiritual step as well. It was making a commitment to each other and something that meant a lot to both of us. The only downside was the expense, but it was still a great party to celebrate this big step in our lives!

I believe that marriage is still very important, however it is not meant for everyone. Couples have to be ready to make that commitment to each other and be able to work with each other to keep that relationship going.

I am so happy to be married and absolutely loved my wedding day. And I also know that I'm going to be extremely happy being married to my husband for years and years and years to come. I know it will be hard work, but it will be worth it. Luckily I have great in-laws as well!

Montréal, Québec

From my perspective, marriage is a public recognition of an ongoing private relationship. It shows that these kinds of partnerships have a special place in our culture. It is interesting that, when people co-habitate and choose not to marry, the government 'marries' them anyway (legally). To be sure, this protects the vulnerable partner, but it also makes a social statement about couplehood. Whether it is marriage or not, I think the ritual aspect of this tradition is mirrored in the many other ways that couples publicly celebrate, validate and mark their commitment to each other. I think people have a sense that, in the end, that public dimension is what is important here.

Sackville, New Brunswick

My wife and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary two weeks ago. Listening to your show today, I could not help reflecting on the profound and positive changes that the equalization of marriage to include same-sex couples has brought to the institution. In my generation of late 20s to late 30s Canadians, the legitimization of same-sex marriage has washed away the distasteful tang that exclusion used to add to the idea of marriage. The fact that loving, committed same-sex marriages like mine are honoured in Canada adds to the maturity and meaningfulness of marriage today.

Ottawa, Ontario

When my partner and I decided to marry we wanted to avoid the mess and expense of a wedding but wanted to share our lives. She was teaching in the Gambia and we decided to marry there. It was amazing and we had a great life experience at the same time. We had a bagpiper who was African and was trained by the British Boyscouts and a reception on the beach. The whole thing cost about 3500 and this included airfare. We've been married 14 years now and plan on going back with our son for our 20th.

Sackville, Nova Scotia

Commitment is within the heart. My "common-law" husband and I just celebrated 33 years of living together and have two beautiful children together. I once ran into an old friend who was on her 3rd marriage and she asked me when we were going to get married. I just replied that I think we were more married than she had ever been.

Revelstoke, British Columbia

I don't think that marriage, the institution, matters; it is the level of commitment and respect that a couple shares. People who live in common-law relationships can share a very deep commitment to and respect for one another. Conversely, people who live within the institution of marriage are not necessarily deeply committed to and respectful of one another, simply because they are married.

Orillia, Ontario

When married people say they are "happily married" it is a bit misleading, and implies that there is a kind of permanence to matrimonial happiness.

As someone who has been married once in my life, and for 26 years, I can say with the backing of some experience that marriage is never always happy. A marriage involves a union between two people who are often at different stages in their individual lives, or facing separate personal challenges. Clashes inevitably happen - clashes that at times seem irreconcilable. It is important to remember that marriage is often difficult, and not a fairytale.

The ongoing relevance and importance of marriage is that it offers a stable relationship within which individuals can face their individual spiritual, emotional, mental or professional challenges knowing there is one person who is always there with them. Sometimes your spouse may not like what you are going through, or who you are, but the commitment inherent in the marital vow means they will see it through with you.

Guelph, Ontario

Is marriage relevant? You bet! My husband and I have been married for almost two years. We are both in our seventies (however, since I am six months older than my husband, he refers to me as a "cougar") and lived together for just over a year before the wedding. Some people wondered why we would bother getting married at our age. For us, the commitment just completed our already wonderful relationship -- it felt as if we had been married for decades so it seemed the only natural next step. We had a wonderful small wedding -- my husband's then seven-month old grandson was his best man and my three youngest granddaughters were bridesmaids. My three children walked me down the aisle. We wrote our own vows and a trumpeter playing "When the Saints Come Marching In" led the procession the five blocks to the reception.

Life is very good!

Mayne Island, British Columbia