A mockery of marriage

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2000

The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer last Thursday:``

``Dearly beloved, we are gathered together today on national television to join this man, a multimillionaire, to this woman, whom he picked just five minutes ago from a beauty pageant runway, in holy matrimony.

``If anyone can show just cause why this couple should not be united in marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace.''

Now is good - before Tuesday's travesty ``Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire'' goes into full-scale production, and women and the institution of marriage are demeaned weekly.

Coveting the success of Regis Philbin's game show, the Fox network concocted a cross between ``The Dating Game'' and ``Miss America.'' Through radio promotions and shopping-mall tryouts, Fox found 50 women willing to compete to marry a rich man, sight unseen.

Silhouetted in a darkened booth, the mysterious multimillionaire leered as the contestants paraded before him in evening gowns and swimming suits.

He pondered finalists' answers to such revealing questions as: What's your ideal Friday night? What three things could your husband do to bring out the best in you? What would you do if you found a woman's name and phone number in your new husband's pocket?

Then he emerged, tuxedoed, and grabbed the hand of one woman, conveniently attired in a wedding dress. A judge performed the ceremony. Voila! Instant marriage. (Even mail-order marriages used to take a few weeks.)

Reportedly, the couple, Rick Rockwell, a 42-year-old real-estate investor, and Darva Conger, a Gulf War veteran, are off on their honeymoon.

Mike Darnell, the Fox executive who cooked up this disturbing-but-hard-to-ignore farce, said the show was about wish fulfillment. ``Hey, nothing's permanent. If they don't get along, they don't get along,'' Mr. Darnell said.

Then, apparently, we just tune into ``Divorce Court'' and see whether the prenuptial agreement holds up.

The Nielsen ratings aren't in but, assuredly, if enough households watched this show, Fox will make sequels. A similar syndicated show - ``Wed at First Sight'' - is being pitched for fall.

So what's the harm? These were, after all, consenting adults. No big problem really, except that ``Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire'' makes a mockery of the love, trust, dedication and hard work it takes to build a marriage.

Pardon the earnestness, so out of tune with this postmodern, anything-goes-as-long-as-it's-good-TV age, but here's the thing: Marriage isn't a gimmick or a lark. It's the foundation of family and society. Married people live longer, happier and healthier lives and raise better children.

Marriage should be neither easily entered nor easily exited. Nearly half of American marriages end in divorce, but the rate is headed down. In 1998, it was the lowest it had been since the '70s.

This marketing of spontaneous happiness and casual disposal is an insult to those who try real commitment. It must certainly be put asunder.

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