I understand that in Germany, and perhaps other European countries, folks who want to get married go the equivalent of a Justice of the Peace and sooner, or later, schedule a church wedding if they so desire. The government wedding is for tax and other responsibilities and inheritance purposes. The church wedding is - well, for the Church - in its largest sense.
Now some think our one-step method is superior and perhaps even more sanctimonious if you have the whole thing done at a church. Here is my immodest proposal involving a one AND/OR a two step process that I believe would ameliorate our nation's gay vs heterosexual marriage quandary:
First, everyone who wishes to have a union recognized by the state, with rights and responsibilities in the eyes of the law, should not only have the option, but be REQUIRED to establish one - heterosexuals, homosexuals, anybody. This option should be as inclusive as possible and open to every human who is of age and not already legally entwined. Short of marrying animals and children, who, as far as we know, cannot give informed consent, and probably groups, which is asking for more trouble than our laws know how to handle, any two humans should freely establish civil unions. No questions need be asked beyond the necessary - though some required counseling might be a good thing.
Not to be denied, individual congregations should be free to perform or not perform non-civil religious ceremonies for anyone who meets and agrees to their criteria. These would be faith unions and differences about who can receive a blessing of this sort would mostly devolve to finding a faith in which one is at home and where you are welcome. If the faith rejects the union for purposes of a blessing, one need only find a place where one IS welcome, a place whose values are compatible. No talk about forcing faith institutions to provide equal services under the law... the civil union would already be in place and the rest completely a matter of mutual consent. It would be as straightforward as that.
If folks were honest, I think they'd have to admit a lot of the pushing and shoving that goes on with this issue is based on power-seeking and feelings of threatened adequacy. Gays take offense at someone withholding a ceremony, even when illegal or when to perform it would violate the faith of the blessor. Feelings of threatened adequacy rise up and there is a desire to force equality of treatment - as if churches were a mere tool of the state. Unfortunately, for their part, I feel some faith-constrained, as opposed to faith-liberated churches believe they must politically and legally deny others what they easily deny themselves, a legal homosexual relationship - extrapolating their own convictions or lack of need onto others via tenets of the state.
Right now, I think most of the states very foolishly frustrates the desires of perfectly civic-minded couples who happen to be homosexual and also wish to formalize a lifelong legal commitment. The government should embrace providing this service as part of providing services equally to all. Further, no church should have anything to say about legal relationships. If one is talking about services of the state, everyone should be entitled, period.
In short, let civil duties be handled by civil servants letting everyone be eligible for the provisions and protections of the state. Afterward. or even before, let everyone be free to have a faith ceremony with whatever faith community they identify with - or if they wish, none at all.