Traditional marriage is a diverse and wondrous thing – in terms of ceremonies, day-to-day arrangements, how decisions are made, even how many people are in the marriage. The “traditional marriage” as a norm is a relatively recent arrangement, and isn’t a clear norm in religious texts.
The idea that marriages must be registered with a government is also not universal or traditional – common law marriage being the obvious exception. An obvious answer to all the fuss is to say that the government has nothing to do with the word “marriage”. Leave these decisions to civil society. If a religious institution will only marry straight couples, then gay couples can go somewhere more inclusive and be married there.
As for tradition and history, brutal traditions around the world have been banned, from slavery and genital mutilation to foot-binding. Blatant discrimination is less extreme but no more defensible. However, an open exploration of marriage and its changing meanings is good thinking fodder for current debates. Here’s a good exploration on Australian radio: Marriage, Australian style – Rear Vision – ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Audio and transcript available. Program summary:
Debate over same-sex marriage is nothing new. Just who can marry and the circumstances under which they can later divorce has been contested territory for as long as the institution of matrimony has been with us.