I was interviewed by Candice Barnes at WAToday for an article on Married At First Sight, the new dating experiment TV show coming to Channel Nine that I’m a wedding celebrant on! Luckily for me, the outrage from the gay community, Christian community and the marriage celebrant community has been drowned out only by the outpouring of support from people that understand there is more than one way to fall in love and more than that, that marriage is a daily decision.
This might be shocking news for those that hope to hold a wedding and then never need to do anything more for their relationship: a wedding maketh not a marriage.
For a show about the happiest day of one’s life, Married At First Sight sure has generated a lot of anger, especially given that the televised ceremonies aren’t even legally-binding.
At first, Brisbane-based marriage celebrant Joshua Withers felt the same way.
“My first reaction was that it would be a cheapening of marriage. I can understand where many of the comments are coming from arguing that it’s making a mockery of marriage, because that was my initial reaction too,” he said.
After spending “a few days thinking about it”, Mr Withers accepted an offer from Channel Nine to officiate two of the weddings.
“The experiment had some limitations around the pre-marriage arrangements, the limitations being that the bride and groom didn’t know each other, so the legal aspects of marriage couldn’t take place,” he said.
“The marriage that takes place on the TV is a sort of precursor to a real marriage ceremony.
“I’ve always truly believed that marriage is a daily decision and how you begin the marriage isn’t intrinsically linked to how much you enjoy the marriage. It requires getting up every day and saying to yourself ‘I want to have a great marriage’.”
It’s a sentiment shared by one of the show’s experts, psychologist Sabina Read.
“A marriage certificate doesn’t dictate how we feel. There are plenty of people living in de facto relationships that are just as devoted and dealing with the same issues without a piece of paper,” she said.
“We’ve simulated those experiences of the wedding, honeymoon, meeting family and living together and that’s very real and creates the same challenges and emotionality. I don’t think it influenced [the participants’] commitment.”
Ms Read said she knew the show would be “controversial” but was “fascinated by the premise” of arranging a marriage… for someone else.
“The idea of a so-called arranged marriage gave us the opportunity as experts to think about what we really want to put in the mix. When do you get this opportunity to put the factors into the mix and see what comes out the other end?” she said.
“This is just turning it on its head really, allowing us to think about those factors on their behalf.”
While “love matches” are often the preferred way to enter a marriage in the western world, Ms Read said there were benefits to taking some of the emotion out of the decision.
“As a psychologist, the couples I’m seeing are usually further down the track, they’re struggling. Statistically, we know most couples wait seven years before they seek help. A lot of the issues they’re talking about could be reduced if we were more conscious of the ingredients we put into relationships,” she said.
“We’re not thinking about how we navigate conflict, how our parents handled an argument, how important education is to you. These are the issues that come up in long term relationships and often we haven’t done that due diligence before we get married.”
Mr Withers agreed that marriage wasn’t always “rainbows and lollipops” and that signing on the dotted line wasn’t necessary to validate a relationship.
“The words marriage, husband and wife still mean a lot to us, it isn’t about needing to legally get married anymore. It’s about saying we like each other enough to spend the rest of our lives together and spending the rest of our lives together means we’re married,” he said.
“If you were to go back hundreds of years, or look at other cultures, marriage could be as simple as people talking and deciding to get married, and then they were. The idea of a government or church blessing a marriage is fairly modern one. How we celebrate that is totally up to us.”
Married At First Sight has also thrust the debate around same-sex marriage back into the spotlight. Mr Withers said some had argued the show “invalidates the same-sex marriage argument”, but that he disagreed.
“If anything, I feel that it strengthens the argument for same sex marriage because it highlights that marriage is just two people tackling life together, that concept doesn’t require certain genders,” he said.
“It doesn’t require child bearing or any of these other social constructs that we think make a marriage.”
More than 7,500 people have signed an online petition urging Channel Nine to cancel the show, citing concerns the show was “morally unsound”.
The network has not yet announced when the series would go to air.