By the time you read this, millions of Americans will have risen this morning at an hour best suited for dairy farming to watch wall-to-wall coverage of the televised wedding of Britain's Kate Middleton and Prince William. The TV networks are certainly milking the royal nuptials for all they are worth, having dispatched hundreds of reporters and producers to the scene to capture every pomp and circumstance.
It's hard to see the harm in this shared moment of Anglophilia, aside from what envy it may generate from those impressionable youngsters watching it all on the family big screen TV with visions of wedding ceremonies half as lavish. Fathers of potential brides will kick themselves for not temporarily severing satellite and cable hook-ups for the day.
Like second marriages, royal weddings may well be the triumph of hope over experience. Princess Diana's day in Westminster Abbey three decades ago was quite the spectacle, but so was the dissolution of her marriage to Prince Charles — although in quite a different way. The family has known troubles; let's leave it at that.
But if there is something more productive to be gained from this pop culture moment than breathless descriptions of the bride's wedding gown and veil, perhaps it is this: Let this day be a celebration of the institution of marriage.
After all, those people in this country and around the world aren't tuning into CNN or the BBC to watch William and Kate move into a flat together as singles and see how things work out. The couple is getting married and making a serious commitment to each other, a legal contract that carries with it centuries of tradition and societal importance.
The arrival of same-sex marriage hasn't changed that. The equality debate may have actually elevated marriage's importance in people's minds. Admittedly, the U.S. divorce rate is still high (about half of marriages end in divorce) but it's significantly lower for the wealthy and better-educated, of which the royal couple are prime examples.
Preserving the institution is important and not just because of the obvious boon it presents to florists, dressmakers and Duff Goldman, or even for the tax break. Married people are better off financially and live longer and healthier than their single counterparts. Their children are far more likely to succeed in life than those who are the product of cohabitation. Studies also consistently show the risk of violence is lower in a married household (to both spouses and children), and married couples even report more happiness with their sex lives.
Why is marriage better? Simply put, it is the pledge of permanency, the commitment to love, honor and obey (well, not so much that last one) from this day forward. This promise of "forever after" is what gives the royal wedding a fairytale like quality.
Whether Kate and William's marriage succeeds is immaterial. The point is that they made that pledge to each other. That is their starting point for whatever happens next. There is no guarantee of success, of course, but a better foundation for dealing with the challenges life can present to a fledgling family, royal or common, has yet to be discovered.