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Our family celebrates a wedding this month. We are proud, happy and excited, and by now, more than a little impatient. Family and friends from all over the country will be gathering to honor the bride and the groom and to mark the beginning of their lives together. We love them, and our combined families are eager to get started.

For all of us, these are moments to celebrate — and also moments to think about why we celebrate.

Marriage isn't the right choice for everyone, of course. Some prefer their independence. Some may never find the right partner. Some marriages don't work out. (As someone who has experienced divorce, I know.)

But families and friends celebrate marriage for reasons we all understand. There are a few thousand years of human tradition to consider. There is biology. And there is the belief that when a couple in love shares the good times, the bad times and all the stuff that happens every day, life gets better.

In my own life, I have been lucky. (If you don't believe me, ask my friends.) My marriage is the greatest blessing in my life. The fun is more fun, and the challenges are more manageable. Everything about a shared life just seems to make more sense to me.

Before going on, let me say this: If you think I mean only marriage between a man and a woman, you will be ... disappointed.

The things that matter in the marriage of two people — love, sharing, commitment, sacrifice, honesty — don't involve gender at all. They are what we should honor any time two people decide to make a life together.

At a pace we couldn't have imagined a few years ago, society is coming to recognize that the old prejudices deny to some the equal opportunity to love and be loved.

Still, there remain the self-appointed protectors of marriage. In their zeal, what they forget is that marriage can stand on its own, thank you very much.

Consider the claim that the institution of marriage is threatened when gay or lesbian couples are also allowed to marry. Really? Are marriages so flimsy, so casual, that they can't withstand the threat of same-sex marriage? This makes no sense. Marriage is stronger than that. People are stronger than that.

Marriage can be a wondrous thing. What other social institution engages our hearts and minds in so many ways?

A married couple can be lovers, friends, parents, confidantes and work mates — all in the same day. Couples laugh and cry and argue together. They share the big and small pleasures of life. They pay the bills. They comfort each other through uncertainty, disappointment and heartbreak. They raise kids together, take vacations, paint the garage, visit the in-laws, hold hands, share stories, laugh at one another's jokes and nurse each other through illness and pain.

In a lifetime, a marriage is all of these things and so much more.

If I were smarter than I am, I would write a book (or a song or a poem) about how all this happens. Many have tried.

All I know is that some combination of love and passion and luck bring two people together, and if they are willing to work and sacrifice and respect one another's differences, their marriage will grow stronger over time.