Having already received more than 600 comments from the public about the wording of the same-sex marriage ballot question, Secretary of State Charlie Summers probably isn’t looking for more ideas.

We have an alternative to offer anyway, one that should satisfy all sides.

Summers, who has the authority to determine the wording of all ballot questions, has proposed stripping language that explicitly relieves clergy members of the obligation to perform any marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples from the version of the question that was circulated by petition gatherers.

His version reads, “Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?” which gets points for being succinct if not for being as clear as can be.

The problem is that the word “marriage” has a religious meaning to some people, even when, as in the case of the referendum, only civil marriage is under discussion.

No religious group would be forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies if the law were passed. All would remain free to set their own rules regarding who is eligible to marry in their own institutions, just as they are today.

What would change would be which couples could enter civil marriage, which is performed by notaries and town clerks and does not require the involvement of any religious official. Many Maine couples are married every year without setting foot in a church.

To be as clear as possible, the wording should reflect what kind of marriage the question would affect, and that could be accomplished simply by adding the modifier “civil” into the question.

If the question read, “Do you want to allow same-sex couples to get civil marriage licenses,” it still would be short and to the point, but it would be clear that the referendum would not affect clergy or their institutions.

If Summers is serious about giving voters all the information they need, he should make this change.

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