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Celebrating marriage 

The governor, who knows something about public relations, is pulling all of his state-financed strings to build the gate attendance for his celebration of covenant marriage Feb. 14 at Alltel Arena. The crowds, you perhaps know by now, will be celebrating only the commitment of Mike and Janet Huckabee in a covenant marriage. We suspect the Moonie images inspired by the original plan for a mass nuptial may have prompted a little rethinking. The change doesn’t exactly increase our enthusiasm. Public displays of affection are one thing. Public displays of righteousness — promoted by a taxpayer-financed public relations apparatus — are another. In his defense, Huckabee says — and may even believe — that this ceremony, in addition to scoring national publicity, might shore up marriage in general. Will it really? To me, it suggests that a big showy display of devotion can somehow supplant all the hard little things that make good marriages work — listening, sacrifice, unselfishness, thoughtfulness, patience. Day after day after day. A big ol’ public ceremony isn’t going to instantly make a bad marriage good, any more than a flashy ring or a five-pound box of candy will. There’s a hint of paternalism in this, too. In a message the governor distributed last week, he wrote, “I have a question for all of you husbands out there. When was the last time you did something truly unforgettable for your wife on Valentine’s Day?” He suggests menfolk in search of the unforgettable should trot their sweeties (the ones they’re married to, in any case) down to Alltel for the Huckabee re-nup. (All the details you need are at the governor’s website www.arkansas.gov/covenant.) I think I’ll stay home, even though CeCe Winans is going to be singing and speakers include clergy from the conservative and the more conservative ends of the religious spectrum. I admit some temptation, though. It’ll be a spectacle, with church buses descending on Alltel just like at a Gaither concert. And, as at any wedding, there will be lots of little details to note — dress, gifts, to kneel or not to kneel, contemporary or traditional music. I’ll celebrate the day by continuing to make private amends for the ill-fated Valentine’s Day of 1977. I got off work at 1 a.m. that morning with no gifts and only $2 in my pocket. The result: a stop at the all-night Skaggs grocery where my $2 bought a really bad card from the picked-over display, a Snickers bar and a plastic funnel (the only hard “gifts” in the store were kitchen gadgets and the funnel was the only one I could afford). I like to think it’s a sign of the strength of my marriage — or, more likely, my wife’s forgiving nature — that it survived the funnel Valentine. Huckabee is right about at least some of this, of course. Marriage is a good thing, both for society and, when it’s healthy, for the people who are in it. But there’s abundant evidence in Arkansas’s high marriage rate and high divorce rate that too many of us don’t think deeply enough about the state of matrimony before committing. I’m just not sure making it harder to get out of an ill-considered commitment is the key to a better marriage. Funnels, either.
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