U.S. President Barack Obama gestures during an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC's "Good Morning America" at the White House May 9. During the interview Obama said he believes same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. (CNS photo/Pete Souza, courtesy White House via Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Catholic leaders rejected President Barack Obama’s May 9 declaration in a television interview that “personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

“President Obama’s words today are not surprising since they follow upon various actions already taken by his administration that erode or ignore the unique meaning of marriage,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops, in a May 9 statement.

“We cannot be silent in the face of words or actions that would undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of our society,” Cardinal Dolan added. “The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better.”

In December 2010, Obama said his views on same-sex marriage were “evolving” and that he “struggles with this,” adding he would continue thinking about the issue. An Associated Press story May 10 quoted Obama as saying he wanted to announce his support for such unions “in my own way, on my own terms” but acknowledged earlier remarks by Vice President Joe Biden prompted his announcement.

On May 6, Biden, a Catholic, said he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex couples marrying, adding they should get “the same exact rights” heterosexual married couples receive.

The Catholic Church upholds the sanctity of traditional marriage as being only between one man and one woman, and also teaches that any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful.

“I pray for the president every day, and will continue to pray that he and his administration act justly to uphold and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” Cardinal Dolan said. “May we all work to promote and protect marriage and by so doing serve the true good of all persons.”

In a May 9 statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said it “opposes the redefinition of marriage based on the clear understanding that the complementarity of man and woman is intrinsic to the meaning of marriage. The word ‘marriage’ describes the exclusive and lifelong union of one man and one woman open to generating and nurturing children. Other unions exist, but they are not marriage.”

In its statement, the archdiocese said it would “continue to strongly advocate for the federal government’s existing definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” adding it supports efforts undertaken by those who uphold the traditional meaning of marriage.”

One such effort is a petition drive in the state of Maryland to overturn a law passed earlier this year to allow same-sex marriage in the state. The archdiocese covers five Maryland counties in addition to the District of Columbia.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance said May 2 that a petition to put the law to a vote had collected more than 30,000 voter signatures. Nearly 56,000 valid signatures are needed by June 30 to add the referendum to the November ballot, with half due May 31 to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

“For us in Maryland, the vote on marriage this November has nothing to do with politics,” said Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, in a May 9 statement. “It will be a vote on the issue of marriage itself.” She added, “The definition of marriage is not a matter of politics. It is a matter of values and the foundation of society and family.”

On May 8, North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman by a 3-to-2 margin. According to an initial tally by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, 1,303,952 people — 61.05 percent — voted for the amendment while 831,788 people — 38.95 percent — voted against it.

The amendment read, “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” It enshrines the definition of traditional marriage in the state constitution, elevating it from what has been state law since 1996.

Across the country the views of many Catholics, though, appear to be trending toward support of same-sex marriage.

A March poll conducted jointly by the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service found overall Catholic support for same-sex marriage to be 59 percent, with 36 percent of Catholics opposed. Support by Americans overall is at 52 percent, with 44 percent opposed. Among white Catholics, 57 percent support same-sex marriage and 37 percent oppose it.

The demographic groups that showed majority opposition to same-sex marriage were respondents age 65 and up, white evangelicals, Republicans, African-Americans, and those with a high school education or less. In addition, pluralities of men and “minority Christian” affiliations said they were opposed.

According to polls conducted over the past five years by Gallup, ABC-The Washington Post, NBC-The Wall Street Journal, CNN-Opinion Research Center and the Pew Research Center, public support for same-sex marriage has risen from 40 percent in 2006 to majority support today.

—By Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service