I am all for equal rights for gays, including getting married if that's what they want to do. However, that said, I believe there is a way around this whole debate over whether gays should be allowed to get married that would probably satisfy all but the most ardent stickler on either side. This isn't my idea, or it isn't new. But I believe it should be the direction that the gay marriage debate ought to take.
Homosexuals want to marry because it gives both parties in the relationship the same rights that married couples now enjoy, both in terms of the tax code and for employment benefits. They also want to be recognized as a married couple by society. But isn't it possible to grant gay couples all those rights without actually calling it a marriage?
Conservatives say they want the "institution of marriage" preserved because, to them, marriage is something that is sanctioned by God. So it really, then, becomes an issue of semantics. Why not keep the definition of "marriage" as a union between one man and one woman that is sanctioned by God. Marriage can then be something performed by and sanctioned by the church. If a denomination does not approve of gay marriage, they would have the right not to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples. For gay couples, we could call it something else, such as a "domestic partnership." A domestic partnership would be sanctioned by the government and would require a domestic partnership license. But a marriage would only be sanctioned by the church, and the couple getting married would still need to get a marriage license. Legally, however, it would be equivalent to a domestic partnership license. Denominations that have no problem with alloying gay couples to marry can still, if they wish, call it marriage.
If an atheistic or agnostic heterosexual couple would prefer to get a domestic partnership license rather than a marriage license, that would be their decision to make.
So, for those who are against gay marriage, they would get to retain their definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. And for the gay couple, the domestic partnership would grant them all the legal rights and protections that being married now does. Also, if a gay couple wanted to have a wedding ceremony and even call it "getting married" there would be nothing to prevent them from doing so. It's just that everybody's legal license would read either "domestic partnership" or "marriage" and they would be legally equivalent.