BANGOR – War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Marriage is … something else.

In his novel “1984,” George Orwell explains that Newspeak, the language of the nightmarish government, “was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought.”

Or, as a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Truth says, “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

“Destruction” is a strong term. The proponents of the gay marriage law would say they are interested only in “fairness” and “equality.” They seem sincerely to believe that they only want to change the law in a small way.

But when a concept has existed in its basic form for 20 centuries and for that length of time has been the bedrock of society, there are no small changes.

If “fairness” is the standard by which marriage is to be judged, how fair is it, then, that bisexuals would be able to marry only one person of either sex or that a parent could not marry his or her child?

There is, in fact, no logical way to exclude the claims of any person, no matter how strange or worse than strange their thinking might seem to most of us today. Anyone could say that his or her rights were being violated by whatever definition of marriage held sway at a particular time. In this clutter of competing arguments and legal wrangles, the concept of and word marriage as it exists today would cease to have meaning.

There are other definitions of marriage in other cultures. For example, Osama bin Laden was the 17th son among 54 children by 22 wives legally married to a billionaire construction contractor in Saudi Arabia.

The Economist, an eminently establishment publication, stated in a Sept. 1 article that not having “harem-formation, which would have been an option in the past for many (high-achieving) males,” hampers the efficiency of passing along the best genetic material to future generations.

Ironically, this assault on marriage is occurring at a time when increasingly we seem, within the limits of human imperfection, to be getting marriage right.

People are marrying later, the divorce rate is down and there is incontrovertible evidence that having both a mother and father at home is best for children.

Moreover, there seems to be more appreciation of the shared responsibilities and joys of marriage through a wider portion of the population than ever before. Economic realities and changing social norms mean that more marriages are being entered into as genuine partnerships of equals without forgetting the wonderful and befuddling differences between us.

In my own biased viewpoint, I think men benefit even more from these changes than women. To me, like most men who have really thought about this, one of the central mysteries of life is — what do women see in us?

Ideas plain and simple to most ordinary people often confound judges and legislators under the influence of grand social theories and wealthy, powerful pressure groups. But this time, as Maine voters, we aren’t trying to overturn someone else’s mistake. We are being told we should be the first state by means of a popular election to make that mistake ourselves.

The destruction of even as important a word as “marriage” does not mean necessarily that we would arrive in the world of Orwell’s Big Brother. There is always the hope that decency and common sense somehow will prevail. But none of us will know in our lifetimes what the full effects of this change would be.

Overturning 20 centuries of wisdom demands more thought and respect than the proponents of this law have given us. Our state and our children deserve better.

What to do is simple. It is not a poll or a focus group or a high-powered advertising campaign that will decide this question. We will all have a chance to step into a voting booth with no one else present, and to vote for what we think is right.

Christopher Ritter is a resident of Bangor.