Charles and Camilla (and Mike and Janet)
Two couples who have been together for a very long time have put marriage back in the news, and I’m not talking about the product-placement extravaganza of the Trump nuptials in Palm Beach.
I’m talking first about Little Rock, Ark., where, on Monday, Gov. Mike Huckabee, who’s contemplating a run for president, and his wife of 31 years, the former Janet McCain, entered into what’s known as a “covenant marriage.” The Huckabees’ new, improved marriage differs from their previous one in that they agreed to undergo premarital counseling and have vowed to seek divorce only on grounds of near-biblical proportions.
Second, I’m talking about London, where, in a demonstration of romantic, not moral, values, 56-year-old Charles, the Prince of Wales, announced that Mummy had given him permission to make an honest woman out of his 57-year-old paramour, Camilla Parker Bowles.
In both cases, the marriages ratify relationships that have been underway for decades, but otherwise they appear to have little in common. The Huckabees, who lived in a double-wide trailer while waiting for the governor’s mansion to be renovated, held their ceremony in a local sports arena. Gospel singer CeCe Winans performed. The bridegroom wore street clothes, the bride a red dress. Private donors covered the $65,000 cost. The crowd erupted in cheers when the Pulaski County clerk stamped the license, making it all official.
By contrast, Charles, who divides his time among his many palaces, will marry Camilla, a divorcee, for the first time after more than 30 years of pining. Camilla, who lives discreetly with Charles at Clarence House, where the prince performs his official, and apparently other, duties, never stopped believing that her prince would come despite his marriage to the virgin princess Diana (apparently under orders from his family).
Although the Church of England was founded on the principle that kings shouldn’t have to behead their wives to remarry, the marriage at Windsor Castle will be a civil ceremony. The archbishop of Canterbury, who supports the union, will preside over a private service of prayer and dedication that will follow. Though some conservatives are outraged, most in the British establishment are relieved that the prince, who may yet be king and, therefore, Defender of the Faith, will not be living in sin.
The Huckabees’ intent is to shore up the beleaguered institution of marriage (although it seems so unfair that some people can get married twice and some not at all) as well as jump-start their own political fortunes. Their hyped public display gives covenant marriage a boost (it hasn’t caught on since it was adopted into law in Arkansas in 2001) and successfully captured the attention of the Christian right as well as mainstream media hungry for a fresh angle on Valentine’s Day.
Rather than just being a governor of a Bible Belt state with a divorce rate, embarrassingly, higher than Massachusetts’, Huckabee is now the proud leader of one of only three states to super-size marriage. If moral values helped President Bush win the White House, why not Gov. Huckabee?
But in the end, I suspect, Charles and Camilla are likely to do a lot more than Mike and Janet for the institution of marriage, for the simple reason that their wedding is for them, not us. The Huckabee marriage is like Charles’ first -- pitched to a gullible public for maximum effect. The prince could have sent a cardboard cutout of himself to St. Paul’s Cathedral for the fairy-tale wedding to the young, callow Diana. She wanted so much to be a princess she overlooked that the bridegroom loved another woman. He was a jerk and can’t make amends to her, but he can to Camilla and to himself, by doing what he should have done to begin with.
To the generation that swooned over the mile-long train and horse-drawn carriage, this bony-kneed couple is creating a far less glamorous but far more resonant fairy tale -- one that reflects just how messy and complicated life and marriage can be. In this new Cinderella story, Camilla can almost be forgiven for giggling like an adolescent as she held out her engagement diamond for the world to see.
On April 8, I will follow this wedding just as I did the first, knowing that the prospects are much higher this time that the bride and groom will live happily ever after.