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It’s really not a bad thing when stars split

Last year was a very good year for celebrity divorce; by which I mean that it was a bad year for celebrity marriage. Of course I use the term "bad" only in the loosest moral sense, since it suggests the point of celebrity marriage is to stay together, that is to say, not get divorced – and in case you haven't guessed, this is not a notion I cleave to.

Nor, in my opinion, should you.

In our era, when the definition of legal partnership is being re-evaluated across the democratic world, it seems only right that we should embrace a more pluralistic concept of marriage. In the endless preamble to the U.S. election campaign, the sanctity of marriage has emerged as a hot-button issue – and no wonder, it's less confusing than the economy, less depressing than the environment and evokes vague notions of sex. I understand this debate is primarily focused on the distinction between heterosexual and homosexual marriage, but I propose the agenda be shifted away from wedding-mad gays to wedding-mad celebrities. Surely when it comes to the U.S. divorce rate (one of the highest in the Western world at around 40 per cent), couples such as Katy Perry and Russell Brand have more to answer for than, say, Glen Jones and Randy Smith from Illinois. Having said that, is it fair to blame celebrities for behaving exactly the way we have come to expect them to?

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I wouldn't be bringing this up if things didn't seem to be getting worse (or better, depending on your point of view). In 2011, we witnessed a veritable multi-car pileup of celebrity marital strife. It was a year that began with the relatively predictable snapping of the bond between Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson ("I gotta say, I'm a different person than I was six months ago," Reynolds remarked philosophically of the split) and ended with an all-out bust-up glut that had the Hollywood tabloid media hyperventilating with malicious glee. Within just a couple of months we saw the dissolution of Ashton and Demi; the meltdown of J. Lo and Marc Anthony; Mel Gibson handing over half his $850-million (U.S.) fortune to his presumably-more-than-deserving ex-wife, Robyn; Maria Shriver ditching Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Kim Kardashian duking it out with Sinead O'Connor for the record of Shortest Celebrity Marriage of 2011 at 10 weeks and 17 days respectively (more on this later). (Incidentally, the all-time Hollywood quickie marriage record-holder is Rudolph Valentino who, in 1919, had a whirlwind six-hour union with the American actress Jean Acker. One can only imagine the degree to which this bit of trivia must irritate the recently re-engaged Britney Spears (currently clocking in a distant second at 55 hours), but give her time.

Given the blasé manner in which celebrities like Kardashian and O'Connor (both clearly unhinged in wildly different ways) treat the idea of lifelong commitment, it seems obvious there ought to be a different set of standards and practices, both legal and moral, when it comes to celebrity marriage. First, let's take the case of Kardashian. The reality-TV star received a tidal wave of public blowback following her decision to abandon her basketball-star husband just a few weeks after their "fairy-tale" wedding. (Kris Humphries, for his part, has said he'll see Kardashian's divorce petition and raise her a request for an annulment.) But how is it in any way fair for the public to hold Kardashian up to normal standards of human behaviour? She has a job to do, and that job entails living a life that commands lots of publicity – good and bad, and primarily body-focused. How does moving to Minnesota and becoming a happily married wife and mother fit into that picture? It doesn't! Ergo, by marrying and divorcing Humphries in short order, Kardashian was simply fulfilling her duty as a reality star. As a divorcée, she is nothing if not a consummate professional.

Now O'Connor's situation, on the other hand, is a much more complicated bit of business. The Irish pop singer had already had three marriages and four children by four different fathers when she decided to wed Dublin therapist Barry Herridge in a drive-through ceremony in Las Vegas in December. According to a statement later posted on her website, the wedding was "kiboshed within hours" – the result of O'Connor's insistence they buy pot on their wedding night (apparently she doesn't drink and wanted to celebrate) and negative reaction from Herridge's friends and family at the news. "It became apparent to me that if he were to stay with me he would be losing too much to bear." Poignant, no? But wait! In the time it's taken me to write this column everything has changed. O'Connor has just reported via Twitter that she and her hubby have reconciled in "a mad, lovemaking affair," which culminated in their deciding to "be boyfriend and girlfriend again and stay married." No doubt by the time you read this, O'Connor's marriage will be annulled and she'll be happily remarried to a landscape gardener from Cleveland. Will she be violating the sanctity of marriage by doing so? Not by celebrity standards. On the contrary, she'll just be doing her job.

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