As you can tell by the title, I am combining two sacraments into one post. I am not suggesting that marriage is a bad idea. This is not where I will air out some of my more insane views on marriage. This only deals with marriage as a religious sacrament.
I have chosen to combine the two because they share so much in common: Both are done in the context of community. Both should be reserved for consenting, mature adults. And both are defined and blessed by the church.
There really is no such thing as a private confirmation. I suppose it can be done, but the whole point is to make a big show for the community that you have made a commitment decision to that community. It would be rather odd to leave the community out of that event. In the Protestant world, confirmation is generally tied to baptism. Again, this can be done privately, but is usually reserved for a special, public event.
In the same way, marriage is very much a community event. I know that many couples decide to run off and elope privately. Family and friends of these couples feel deeply slighted by this action. Even more than confirmation, marriage is about ceremony, and making a commitment with, and before the community. As I am something of a communitarian, this is probably a good thing.
The controversy begins with the next similarity. Few would argue that marriage is a commitment that should be undertaken only by consenting, mature adults, even though, too often, it is not. Unfortunately, far fewer people see the necessity for religious confirmation to be undertaken only by mature, consenting adults. I was baptized at the age of seven. Too young. Not uncommon. There is a certain desperation with regard to church membership that makes them want to baptize and confirm anyone who walks in the door, regardless of age. The vast majority of baptisms I have witnessed have been those of pre-adults.
As churches lose members and their roles grow smaller, they are desperate to hold onto their kids for the next generation of church member. There is less emphasis on instilling a quality, religious education than there is to get them into the water as soon as possible. The only real requirement seems to be that a young person has had the Hell, literally scared out of them so that they take out the requisite fire insurance. That would be a little like advocating marriage at the age of initial sexual awakening. A person cannot even inter into a legal contract before 18 or 21, depending on where you live. But we coerce them into a spiritually binding, eternal contract with the church and god before they know their first kiss.
Thirdly, these two sacraments are similar because they are regulated and defined by the clergy. It seems every church has its own rules for membership. The bible plays little role in that determination. The local church is a community first, and a religious institution second. All communities have their spoken and unspoken rules about how to join. This personal relationship with god begins with an impersonal decision by one of his representatives.
Marriage is the same way. The church reserves the right to decide when two people are married and when they are not. I find this type of regulation to be offensive. Does the church really believe that the countless people who decide not to have a church wedding are any less married? What of the marriages in other cultures and countries? They often involve neither priest nor magistrate. Yet, they have found a way to declare marriage for longer than the church has existed. In both confirmation and marriage, the church is claiming authority that it really does not have.
Finally, the way in which both sacraments are most alike is their ineffectiveness. Despite the desperate attempt to commit children to the church community before they are ready, kids tend to leave when the opportunity presents itself. Churches generally seem to be shrinking, not growing. No matter how much holy water is used during the course of the confirmation, it does not have the power to hold that convert to her church commitment.
It is even worse with marriage. Remember, this is a ceremony overseen by a clergyman, and blessed by god. Yet, there is no evidence that church marriages last any longer, or produce happier unions than pagan weddings. Divorce courts do as much business with god blessed Christians as they do with atheists. A broken, Christian home is no less difficult for a child than any other type of broken home. Incidents of infidelity seem to occur just as frequently among the church married as the Vegas eloped.
In other words, whether we are talking about confirmation or marriage, using theistic religion as the main ingredient simply does not work. This is problematic for religion. It makes these institutions less sacramental, and more aspirational. Churches hope for strong communities and solid marriages. But so does everyone else. Churches claim a higher power for delivering these things, but in practice, are exposed as impotent as everyone else. For this reason, I consider these two of the weakest of the sacraments. I consider the next one even weaker.