Same-sex marriage has become a heated debate in Australia. Currently Australian law defines marriage as 'the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of others, voluntarily entered into for life' but many Australians would like to see this change. As is the case in all disagreements, this debate presents an opportunity for communication, mutual understanding, compromise and growth (while at the same time threatening division, hostility and misrepresentation). The solution isn't to sweep the issue under the carpet but to engage in honest conversation.
We all have a marriage ethic. That is, we all believe some marriages are a good idea and some bad. Polygamy in Australia is punishable by 5 years in gaol and marriage is still seen as a life long contract. People can "marry" their iPhone (marryyouriphone.com) but we all get that it's a joke. Underlying these ideas of good and bad is a sense of what marriage is for. Almost all of us share the belief that marriage is a team - that as 2 complimentary individuals grow in intimacy and cooperate they become greater than the sum of their parts. A byproduct of this is joy - however we explain it this kind of relationship seems to be at the heart of human longings. Where many Australians part company is on the question of reproduction - is marriage meant to be a 'team building exercise' in the sense that it multiplies team membership as well as strengthens team cohesion?
The Bible claims God made marriage to 'build' teams in both senses of the word. In its story marriage is quickly marred, leaving some couples with the grief of childlessness, but producing children remains its ideal. Appealing to the Bible might not persuade everyone, but at least we can recognise that it grounds its ethic in a story, a story that explains marriage's purpose. What is the alternative tale? If evolution is mindless in what way does it urge us to disregard gender but still prize monogamy and life long union?
I don't expect Australians to reach consensus on this question - compromise may be required. But if Australians can better articulate their underlying ethic as a result of this debate, if we can ground our preferences in notions of what makes something good or bad, then I think we'll have gone a long way to making the most of this opportunity.