A few weeks back, we all marvelled when 33 miners, defying the odds, were hauled to the surface after being trapped 700 metres underground for more than two months.

One by one we saw these miners emerge and be embraced in the warmth and affection of their loved ones.

At the time, one thing that really struck me is that several of the men, once they were back on the surface with the sun in their faces, declared that they wanted to marry the women they loved.

Some had been with their partners for years, even decades. They had lived together and had children. Some allowed that they had talked of marriage before the drama of these last months but had been "waiting for the right moment." 

Others said marriage had never really been on their minds.

But when faced with that rare moment to contemplate what was truly important in life, these men came to the conclusion that they wanted to choose love, and they wanted to make a public declaration of it.

To me, that was a wonderful affirmation of what marriage is supposed to be about.

A declining institution

Now, I know that, historically, marriage has been what some today would consider a demeaning exchange of property. A woman being traded from her father's home to her husband's home.


A high five to matrimony. Natasha, arm raised; Chris in the white suit. (Photos courtesy Mark Ulster)

Love had very little to do with it throughout much of human history.

But I also know that, in the past, marriage was something a woman had to do. Especially because to be unmarried implied some sort of failure as a person and, at the extreme end, social ostracism — you were essentially an incomplete person.

That isn't the case today, of course. Many people in relationships choose never to get married. They live perfectly happy, complete lives with great relationships without ever legally tying the knot.

What's more, as we all know, the marriage rate is declining noticeably in many Western societies, as the Vanier Institute pointed out just last month in the case of Canada.

At the same time we've had a very long, difficult fight to legalize the right to same-sex marriage in this country.

I think about that sometimes in the context of my own parents, who came from different ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds — my mother is a Gujarati Shia, my father is a  Punjabi Sunni.

They, too, had to fight societal norms to be married based on love.

Choosing love

People, still have to fight for love. To have the freedom to choose a life based on that essential ingredient.

For me, when you don't have to get married and you choose to do so, that makes marriage more romantic than it ever was in the past.

With the amount of commercialization that surrounds weddings today, I know the spectacle can feel unromantic.

Thousands of dollars spent on banquet halls, DJs, flowers that match the dishes that match the bridesmaids' bouquets. Also, with the popularity of reality shows like Say Yes to the Dress and Rich Bride, Poor Bride, weddings can seem thoroughly shallow.

But I'm not talking about weddings here, I'm talking about getting married.

I know people say it's just a piece of paper and it doesn't mean anything — I used to be one of those people.


Trapped miner Raul Bustos embraces his wife after reaching the surface on Oct. 13, 2010. Chile's President Sebastian Pinera claps in appreciation. (Reuters)

But I have discovered it can be much more than that.

When you stand up, with the person you love, in front of your friends and families and your God if you believe in one, and you make a commitment to one another, that is very important and powerful declaration.

That commitment goes beyond the couple and becomes one to the community. It does make a difference.

Property values

My partner Chris and I have been a couple for seven years.

He was born in Canada, I was not. I am Muslim, he is not. We don't share the same mother tongue, ethnicity or religion — things that in many parts of the world would keep us apart. And, in many people's minds, should keep us apart.

But, thankfully, we live in Canada where we have the freedom to love openly and marry whomever we choose.

So earlier this year, we chose to get married. We had a very intimate ceremony in my parents' backyard, conducted by a progressive Muslim woman, another deliberate choice, who spoke to us and our guests about the commitment we were making.

After the ceremony, our family had agreed that there would be no speeches. But I felt compelled to thank our guests and to say how lucky we all are to live in this country, which gives us the freedom to marry whomever we choose and in the way that we choose.

Our small group of guests represented this country so beautifully, their backgrounds from every corner of the planet, sitting together peacefully in a small backyard in Toronto.

So after the speech, Chris and I and our friends celebrated by walking around our downtown neighbourhood and singing in the streets, like some multi-ethnic Bollywood production.

We were surely bringing down the property values but propping up the joy of being married.