For various reasons, I'm reading The Family Secret: Domestic Violence In America by William Stacey and Anson Shupe. It's about their experiences with women in a shelter in Dallas in the early 1980s. Nothing in it really comes as any particular surprise, but I think I have a better understanding and deeper empathy for these women and children caught in truly desperate circumstances.
One section, however, I found very interesting. It's talking about the available options to battered women, and what steps the women went through to get help before finally winding up at the shelter. Police are often of no help (this was written in 1983, when domestic violence was probably taken less seriously than it is today). They note this about the clergy:
...women in Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and conservative Protestant churches (such as the Church of Christ, the Southern Baptist Church, and various fundamentalist denominations) are most likely to find their priests and ministers of little help. The kinds of family conflict that might lead to divorce or separation threaten these groups. Their clergy are likely to recall the admonitions of Saint Paul on controlling women and use them to justify telling the woman she must stay in the abusive home. Here women will probably be counseled by a minister to "try to be a better wife" or to "be more considerate of him" and "obey him." Leaving the abusive man, or divorcing him, will be branded desertion or a sin, shifting the blame to her.
In short, if she is a church-going battered woman her chances of getting meaningful ministerial help are better in churches of a more moderate-to-liberal persuasion such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Unitarian.
I don't think it's a coincidence that the churches that are likely to deride a woman for leaving an abusive husband are the same ones that are so vociferous about arguing against gay marriage. What I think is so telling about the passage above is that it shows these same conservative churches are willing to put the benefit of the institution above the welfare of the individuals inside that institution.
I don't think any rational person doubts that marriage provides benefits to individuals that aren't available to single people or unmarried couples. I have yet to see a rationally-based argument against equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. They all just use vague terms like "protection marriage" and "traditional marriage." But couching the fight in terms about equality and fairness isn't going to turn them to our side, because they are more interested in maintaining the illusion of what they think the institution should be rather than what it really is.