We own some small apartments that we rent to young couples. It used to be that all of our applicants were married. Now, few, if any, of them are. The new norm is couples living together who may or may not consider marriage in the future.

“It’s not the paper or the certificate that matters,” they tell us. “We don’t need a ceremony to prove we love each other.”

Is marriage becoming obsolete?

It better not be, because if it does, civilization as we know it is in peril. Here’s why:

Most agree that the family is the basic unit of our society, and that the household is the basic economic unit. The most reliable and least expensive level on which to prevent and to solve problems is in the home.

So if the family is the basic institution from which all larger institutions are built and on which our larger economy depends, what is it that galvanizes, shores up and preserves the basic unit?

The answer is marriage. Committed marriages are the glue that holds society together.

Without the commitment of marriage, households and families turn into unstable and unpredictable arrangements of convenience that are frighteningly easily dissolved and disbanded.

Over eons of time, marriage has always been a beautiful blessing of voluntary devotion, a symbol of sacrifice, a bond of declared and unconditional love, a banner of caring and a promise not to give up.

It is a privilege and an honor and a delight to demonstrate our deepest love by making the commitment of marriage. Men and women from the dawn of history have made marriage the milestone of their lives and the foundation of their chosen priorities and lifestyle. It is a way like none other to show our love and prove our devotion.

And the commitments made by marriage partners to each other translate into commitments to the children that come into the marriage and produce a security and identity for those children that lift them toward their potential and their place as responsible members of society.

If we need still another perspective from which to appreciate the value of marriage, consider the gay rights movement, which recognizes the importance of the marriage commitment and is thus willing to fight for it. Meanwhile, our broader society is devaluing marriage.

Whatever your position is on this issue, it should remind everyone, especially those who believe in traditional marriage, of the beauty and sanctity of this privilege that should be honored, valued and never taken for granted.

But there is no question — the institution of marriage, from the macro vantage point, is in serious decline. Fewer and fewer couples who live together are married. And half of all children now being born in this country are born to unmarried women, most of whom are cohabitating.

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When couples say they don’t need some ceremony to prove they love each other, they are missing the point. The point is not ceremony; the point is commitment — commitment that is lovingly and willingly made, commitment to actually share life together, real life with all of its ups and downs.

And that commitment is the only thing that can make families and households strong enough to be the basic unit of our society.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest e-book is “On the Homefront."