Dr John Dickson

Australian writer, academic, and speaker — public advocate for the Christian Faith

The Logic of Classical Marriage

The institution of marriage as classically understood is grounded in an objective fact of universal human experience. While all kinds of bonds of love exist in the world, only the lifelong bond of a man to a woman—and just one man to one woman—has the power to create and nurture a new family and so move the wider human family toward its unfolding history. Put another way, only a bonded pair of complementary sexes is able both to produce children and ensure they grow up in the care of their mother and father. These unique powers have been recognised and honoured throughout almost all human cultures by giving marriage a unique status and name. 

It was always known that some marriages were unable to create a new family. Yet these bonds were still recognised and honoured as marriages because, while hindered through defect or the divine will from creating and nurturing a family, they were nonetheless oriented toward the same goal and thus bore witness to the intrinsic powers of this unique bond under normal circumstances. Childless marriages throughout history were viewed as (something like) faithful but injured members of the same team striving toward the same goal. Committed same-sex relationships, on the other hand, were never granted the status of 'matrimonium' (to use the official Roman language) precisely because, while a somewhat accepted bond of love, such unions by definition could not be oriented toward the same goal of creating human beings and ensuring that those human beings grow up in the care of their mother and father. 

Please understand: I don’t offer any of this as a reason why Australians must not support ‘gay marriage’. I freely acknowledge that I have no special privileges in society. Christians have no right to tell the nation what to do. Persuasion, service, and prayer are all we've got, and all we really need. 

I offer this thought simply to underline why I continue to feel that marriage as classically understood is not a fluid concept but one grounded in an objective fact of universal human reality. I hope that others might at least recognise that there is a certain logic to the classical vision of marriage. It is not an arbitrary religious dogma but a precious and near-universal judgment of the human experience. It is not merely a claim that "things have always been done this way". Rather, it is an explanation of the logical rationale of why human cultures have privileged a particular vision of marriage. 

In the end, the sky won’t fall in if Australia approves gay marriage. In some ways, it will allow the church to discard the unwanted mantle of the ‘moral policeman’ and get on with being Dostoevsky’s beautiful ‘Idiot’. 

I remain committed to honouring LGBTI Australians and, as a Christian, to ‘losing well’. Christ showed us how to profoundly love and profoundly disagree at the same time. I am looking forward to fresh opportunities to embody this twofold ethical feat in His name.