Theologian Mary Hunt has written a very compelling analysis of sacramental marriage and ordination vs secular and legal definitions of marriage and ministry. The following excerpt makes a very important point and suggests a new pathway for reconciling official Catholic opposition to gay marriage with the majority support for gay marriage in the lay Catholic population.
The parallel to the Catholic sacrament of ordination to the priesthood is the most telling one. Priestly ordination as understood in institutional Catholic theology, though I hasten to add not in Catholic theology at large, is reserved for men only. This is similar to limiting the sacrament of marriage to heterosexuals only. History demonstrates that no one can compel the institutional Roman Catholic church to ordain women even if nearly all other Christian denominations do so. But neither can the institutional Roman Catholic church, which -- I repeat -- represents only one among many Catholic views, impose its will in the public arena.
Ministers, rabbis and other religious professionals, both men and women, function as agents of the state when they witness marriages. They receive certain tax benefits because of their ordination. Institutional Roman Catholic opposition to women priests based on its sacramental theology does not equate to a ban on women in ministry in the world. To the contrary, almost every other Christian denomination ordains women. Neither should a sacramental theology of opposite-sex-only marriage equate to a ban on same-sex marriage in a democracy. Nor do I think it will in the long run.
Mary Hunt's observation here is almost so obvious it's a wonder it hasn't been shouted from the roof tops. Imagine the brouhaha if there was a Prop 12 or something demanding full gender access in ministerial positions with in the United States or face loss of all governmental perks and tax breaks. It would almost be poetic justice because the Catholic Church would then face the same institutionalized second rate status partnered gays now face vis a vis marriage. I strongly suspect that if it ever came down to a battle between protecting the all male clergy and dropping the political opposition to same sex marriage, protecting the all male clergy would priority numero uno.
One of the other things that struck me when reading the entire article is that the evolution of marriage is a great metaphor for the Power of Love breaking into society and changing social institutions. Marriage has gone from a property contract, with all it's inherent notions about the secondary status of women and children and it's ability to control the genetic expression of blood line and tribe, to a matter of a love contract between equals with shared family responsibilities. In pluralistic societies the notion of love in marriage has overcome all the taboos associated with 'mixed' marriages designed to protect genetic, religious and racial purity. The last taboo love must overcome is sexual purity, and it will, because love is an unstoppable evolutionary force.
It seems to me that if Christians really looked at the gay marriage debate as just another example of love willing itself into human expression it would be a very positive and hopeful sign that Jesus knew what He was talking about. If love has the capacity to reorganize the basis for such a fundamental social arrangement as marriage and family, imagine what it could do for the relationships between and with in religions, nation states, and cultures.
It so sad to me that the Church Jesus founded to spread His message of love is so obstructionist when it comes to where love leads. There's a part of me that sort of understands the importance of loyal opposition in helping to produce the energy necessary to propel change forward, but still, even knowing that, I wish the Institutional Church wasn't so good at it.