Besides, she asked, why is it a prophetic witness for shepherds to opt out of a government system, while members of their flocks are -- if they want to be legally married -- forced to cooperate with that system?
Gallagher concluded: "It's no great sacrifice for the priest not to sign a marriage contract, but it is a potentially great sacrifice for the Catholic family. If it's no sacrifice, what is the witness?"
Meanwhile, strategists who want to defend centuries of traditional teachings about marriage must face the reality that, as important as these legal squabbles may be, the most damaging blows to the institution of marriage are taking place at the grassroots, argued Matthew Warner, blogging for The National Catholic Register. Will refusing to sign off on civil marriages simply push lukewarm believers further from the church?
"People aren't really changing how they feel about marriage based on the civil definition. They are changing the civil definition because their hearts have already long changed about marriage," he noted.
"We've already twisted marriage into a contracepted, childless, self-serving, partnership of convenience that lasts until one person gets bored. Now we want to get picky about which genders can participate, but can't really remember why that matters either.
"Whatever our political tactics at this point, the ship has long been wrecked. You can redefine a floating casket and call it a lifeboat, or you can redefine a wrecked ship as a civilly wrecked ship, and it's not going to fix the real problems."
NEXT WEEK: Is compromise possible on Holy Matrimony?
(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)
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