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The battle over the definition of marriage is far from over. A new ballot initiative supported by the bishops of Massachusetts will be launched in two weeks at churches, synagogues and other public venues throughout Massachusetts. The aim of the initiative is to allow the people of the Commonwealth to decide if they want marriage to remain as it has always been — the union of one man and one woman — or if they believe the sacred institution should be diluted to include same-sex couples now — and probably other types of relationships in the future.

Marriage is one of the foundations of our society. It assures that the rearing of new generations takes place in stable environments and in the most ideal setting. It binds together individuals from the opposite sex, not only to share intimacy, but to take long lasting responsibility for the new life that comes naturally as a result of the love that should always surround sexual relations.

The responsibility and effort required to love, feed, educate and care for children is enormous. Society has historically supported the daunting task of parenting, and has surrounded the relationship that leads to begetting of children with benefits and protections. These help parents in that most essential duty for the survival of humankind. The institution which embodies all those responsibilities and benefits is marriage.

Proponents of same-sex marriage claim that individuals with a homosexual lifestyle can share loving and stable relationships, and that they can raise adopted children or children conceived outside the relationship. They claim that there is a civil right to marry whomever they choose without regard to the gender of the partner. Existing laws that restrict marriage to heterosexual unions are simply discriminatory, they claim. That argument has gained the hearts and minds of many judges and politicians who have bought into the logic that compares the sexual complementarity of marriage with racial discrimination.

Presenting the need to redefine marriage, anti-discrimination is a smart but self-interested move. The analogy of same-sex marriage to the fight for racial civil rights is misguided. There is no discrimination in not allowing certain types of couples to marry. Should mother and son feel discriminated against because they are not allowed to marry? Should a father and son? Should a young single woman living with her mother believe that they too should be able to marry? Why should a same-sex couple have their union recognized while others cannot?

Society is a complex reality. Non-traditional families, not just same-sex couples, may need extra help and the extension of some personal benefits that are also granted to marriages. If there are individual rights that are unnecessarily limited to married couples, the Legislature can act to correct that situation.

But to say that every relationship is a marriage or that they should be equated to marriage eliminates the core meaning of the institution. Marriage is not a civil right. It is a contract between a man and a woman that society protects and benefits from in view of the expectation that new human life will spring from it, guaranteeing the continued existence of society itself.

To weaken the institution of marriage is to weaken society. Marriage has been under attack for years, first by separating procreation from sexuality, then by separating sexuality from marriage, and again by weakening the responsibility of lifelong commitment with no-fault divorce.

The consequences of that deterioration are evident in our society. The introduction of homosexual marriage will further weaken the institution over time. Society needs to strengthen marriage, not further diminish it.

We are presently experiencing an unprecedented attack on the institution of marriage by a small but powerful group that is looking for societal recognition of their lifestyle.

They are accomplishing that goal at the expense of imposing a devalued institution of marriage on a society that will lose its core values if homosexual marriage is allowed to stand.

When you are approached at your parish on the weekend of Sept. 24-25, and asked to sign a ballot petition that would allow the people of the Commonwealth to vote in defense of marriage, please take up the pen. Other lifestyles should not be discriminated against but neither should they be equated with marriage.

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