Regardless of where one stands on same-sex marriage, one universal trait in the debate in Maine has been cherishing the institution. We cannot recall another period in which marriage has been discussed in such glowing, reverential terms.
There is disagreement about whose unions should be called a marriage under law. And despite Gov. John Baldacci’s signing legislation Tuesday to allow same-sex couples to marry, most people — including the governor himself — think the one stroke of his pen won’t be the last word on it. (Nor will it be, even with or without a likely people’s veto campaign.)
Yet the hallmark of this campaign, thus far, hasn’t been divisiveness or acrimony. In fact, the discussions and hearings about same-sex marriage have been pleasant and respectful, even though a deep, ideological divide separates its opponents and proponents.
These sides don’t agree on much, but they do agree — in their own way — on the importance of strong, committed, loving unions between people. The debate over marriage in Maine hasn’t been about marriage at all, but rather its eligibility standards. For both sides, marriage itself has been held in high regard.
It’s been refreshing to hear, as praise for marriage is a seemingly rare commodity. Popular culture often holds it up to ridicule, with depictions that make marriage a metaphor for imprisonment or torture, rather than joyous or fulfilling. Marital misery, at least on TV sitcoms, loves company.
Such portrayals, though, do reflect national trends. The U.S. Census Bureau has found the chances of a first marriage lasting 10 years dropped from 90 percent during 1900-1950 to 73 percent from 1950 to 2000. The probability of celebrating a 30th anniversary is today about a 50-50 proposition, down from a high of 70 percent.
Ask 100 people and one would likely hear 100 reasons why this has happened. The overall result, though, is pretty clear: Marriage, as a covenant, has seemingly lost its importance. This is not true in Maine, however, especially not during the last six months.
Debate among lawmakers particularly was eye-opening for its honesty and forthrightness. They spoke about their experiences, their upbringing, their values and viewpoints. We heard tale after tale — from both sides — about why the institution called marriage is so vitally important.
It’s not the kind of debate heard often nowadays, and should be a reminder about what the words in the marriage vows really mean. There might be disagreement about who should participate in the ceremony, but so far, there has been nothing but harmony about the eminence of the institution.
Actually, one could argue the luster of marriage has been restored, after so many Mainers came forth to venerate its virtues to legislators. Marriage is important in Maine and its people; that much is proven. 
Opponents and proponents of same-sex marriage may not agree upon much. But they do agree on that.
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