Perhaps an unintended consequence of this saga is that it has made us appreciate marriage more

A short video has just been produced by a new Australian lobby group calling itself “What is Marriage?” Posing the obvious question, “What doesn’t and never has needed legislation is love. Understandably so. Why should the Government regulate our love lives?” the video presents, in a simple and attractive cartoon form, what marriage is about. Starting with the age-old reality of “Boy meets girl… They fall in love… They decide they want to get married. Why?” the video states, “because they might one day want to make little boys and girls of their own. This is called the act of marriage.”

The video informs the viewer that this is currently legislated for in the Marriage Act of Australia, defined as between a man and a woman. It emphasises that “The Government legislates marriage because the central purpose of marriage is to produce offspring and biologically one boy and one girl is the recipe for more boys and girls.” The video also points out that the Marriage Act as it stands does not take away any rights or laws of any other couples in Australia; there is no discrimination. It adds the factual details that 73% of Australians believe children should be raised by their biological mother and father and that at present 72% of Australian children are being raised in this way, in 2.1 million families. It concludes: “Let’s celebrate marriage.”

Alongside this, the family-orientated Iona Institute, based in Dublin, has produced a useful briefing paper on marriage, asking the key question: “Should we have an institution which encourages fathers and mothers to raise their children together?”

Such initiatives are timely and necessary. One might add that it is a great pity that they are being mustered so late in the day. I was reminded of this by a relevant letter from publisher Robin Baird-Smith in The Tablet recently. Baird-Smith writes, “…Two years ago my daughter was married in a Catholic church, both she and her husband being baptised Catholics…As prescribed, they attended a marriage-preparation course. They came back from this deeply disappointed and quite angry. Not only did it cost them £70 to be there, but although a lay man and a lay woman were supposed to conduct the course, only the man turned up. My daughter described him as hopeless. The physical aspects of marriage were not discussed at all. What a wasted opportunity. Instead of having hysterics about gay marriage, wouldn’t it be better if our Christian leaders devoted more time, energy and money to proper, well-informed marriage-preparation courses? Then we all might stop feeling that the institution of marriage was quite so threatened.”

One can only agree with him. Why have the bishops in this country been so slow to implement good marriage-preparation courses as a matter of priority? I know a Canadian priest who has spent his entire priestly life working on marriage preparation courses, first in Vancouver and then in Nova Scotia. The material his small office has produced is first-rate: couples have to attend several sessions, some with a priest and others with older and experienced married couples, in which to discuss the question of money, budgeting and household management, raising children in the faith, sex (and why contraception would damage their relationship) and other pertinent questions. He told me that on a few occasions a couple had decided to withdraw from the classes, realising they were not right for each other.

To celebrate marriage is good; but it must also include proper preparation for couples so they enter this unique relationship with a clear idea of the sacrifices and responsibilities, as well as the joys, that such a permanent and public commitment entails.