The institution of marriage in this country is under attack.

I didn’t use to believe that, but I’m starting to come around. But my recent mind shift has nothing to do with the usual suspects and everything to do with three beautiful people — Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Britney Spears. I’d throw in Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson, but he’s not beautiful and I’m not so sure she’s still medically a person.

Recent news accounts of the marital affairs of Cruise, Holmes and Spears are enough to make a traditionalist turn away in shame. But it’s not just that these events happened, it’s that they were treated as news and, ultimately, that the American public gobbles the information like so much leftover turkey.

Take Spears. It may be enough to get agitated about her high-profile divorce. She was married less than two years — enough time to have two sons — to one of her former backup dancers who happened to be involved with a woman expecting his second child at the time he connected with the pop princess. But remember, Britney first was married to a hometown pal, a midnight Vegas affair that was annulled faster than a Bob Feller fastball.

I’m not against divorce. Very real people with very serious marriage issues think long and hard before taking such a step. Those people are doing what they feel is right for them, often with the involvement of lawyers, mediators and counselors. But Britney Spears, like countless other celebrities, has acted in a manner that reveals her to be one who sees marriage as impermanent and disposable.

Not that I was surprised by any of this. Britney Spears getting divorced was as inevitable as me getting fatter each December. The thing is, I’m setting a bad example for my son. Britney is flaunting her lifestyle in front of millions of people.

So why lump Cruise and Holmes in the same mix? Aren’t they happily married? Well, sure they are, or so we’re told.

What gets me about Tom and Katie is all of the focus on their ridiculously lavish wedding ceremony in a 15th-century Italian castle. While Spears acts as if marriage is as important a choice as “Do I really want fries with that?”, this wedding, which cost more than I stand to earn in a lifetime of honest work, screams another unfortunate message.

Spending millions of dollars on one wedding — and the media turning it into a weekend circus — does nothing more than drive home the notion of the wedding ceremony being far more important than the marriage itself. Never mind that Cruise and Holmes had their baby a full seven months before their wedding gala, how about the fact that their exchange of vows with a Scientology rite isn’t legally recognized in Italy and requires a separate civil ceremony to make the marriage legal?

Sure, a few million bucks doesn’t mean much to Tom Cruise, and no one wants to be accused of being cheap, but after seeing weddings like this treated as important world events, is it any wonder why seemingly normal people are spending six figures on wedding ceremonies?

And why do I know all this? Because I’m part of the problem. I pay to have people sent to my house every week and read the screen crawl on E! when I’m watching old “Saturday Night Live” reruns. I could try to pass it off as trying to stay in touch with pop culture, but I think I’m just as much a snoop as anyone else.

Whatever the reason, the truth is this: Good, honest marriages are things that are not to be taken lightly. Some people succeed at that task, others fail. There are many, many reasons known only to the people involved why a particular marriage endures or implodes. I can’t even begin to make an educated comment on an individual person’s life.

But it is clear that our growing fixation with celebrity culture and, as a byproduct, the marriages of these complete strangers whom we think we know only because we recognize their faces, is a factor in the way some normal people view marriage, and it seemingly has not changed that view for the better.

Think about that the next time you’re in line at the supermarket. Look at the magazine headlines and see how marriage is trivialized. Don’t get me started on what celebrity culture has to say about being a responsible parent. But don’t just consider how the media portrays these issues, think about how you react.

Where’s the problem? Is it the celebrities? Is it the tabloid journalists? Or it is us, the consumers, who simply can’t get enough of the entire experience?

Scott T. Holland’s column appears every Wednesday in the Clinton Herald. His e-mail address is

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