05/18/2012 12:44 pm ET Updated Jul 18, 2012

Yes, Marriage is for Black People, Gay People and Beyond

The institution of marriage has never been as scrutinized, politicized, inspected and dissected as it is today. The fact is for men, you don't need to pop the question to have sex with a "wholesome" girl or to present an image of good values and morals like earlier generations. For women, you don't need marriage for financial security, to be respected as a mother or to ensure the state can't just take away your kids, as was the case in the early 1900s.

Yet, even as the reasons we get married have shifted and the pressure to get married has lessened, the want to get married and the power of the institution stays strong. A healthy marriage is still a door to a lifestyle not found in any other arrangement. Happily married couples live longer, have more wealth, offer a safer environment for their children -- and even enjoy more sex. Marriage is especially important in the Black community, as the cornerstone of our families and neighborhoods. Though our marriage rates have declined it wasn't always this way. Right out of slavery in the early 1900s, Black people were the most married group in the country. We knew it was a way to help keep our families together and provide a foundation for community.

I had the pleasure of witnessing the first step to a solid marriage for six amazing couples. Essence launched the new Storybook Wedding contest, where six readers received surprise proposals at Walt Disney World. The men told their ladies they had simply won a contest to visit Disney. Once in Orlando, we styled the couples and told them part of the prize included being photographed enjoying attractions at the park for a Disney brochure. Little did the women know the outing would end with an engagement ring. One couple will also win the storybook wedding prize package to get married.

After one of the surprise proposals and tapings concluded, I went back over to the couple to ask one final question. As I approached, I saw the groom-to-be bent down as his lady stood. When I got closer I could see he was buckling the strap on her sandal. No camera was in sight and this wasn't for show. He saw a need for her and filled it. That moment represented what a life partner provides.

Check out the magical proposals on