America's Roman Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved a statement Wednesday that urged states to withhold recognition of same-sex marriages.
The bishops said they did not intend to offend homosexuals, and they called discrimination against gays unjust. But the church leaders said they had an obligation to "give witness to the whole moral truth" and reinforce Catholic teaching that gay sex is a sin.
"Marriage is in crisis and will be further devalued and eroded unless we're strong in pointing out that same-sex unions are not the equivalent of marriage," said Bishop J. Kevin Boland of the diocese of Savannah, Ga., who led a committee that drafted the statement, which was approved by a vote of 234 to 3, with three abstentions.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in September gave its general support to amending the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as a union of a man and woman. Pope John Paul II also spoke out last summer against gay marriage.
The prelates said they felt a need to make another public statement now, as gay couples gain greater acceptance in society and seek the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
Vermont allows gay civil unions, and laws in California and Hawaii extend some economic benefits to same-sex couples. Two Canadian provinces recently legalized gay marriage.
Last summer, gay rights groups scored a major victory when the Supreme Court struck down bans on sodomy.