As the debate over same-sex marriage rights continues in states across the country, the Catholic bishops of New Jersey have called upon all members of the faithful to help uphold the sanctity of marriage as a bond between man and woman.

The bishops’ outlined the Church’s teaching on marriage and the importance of maintaining the legal definition of a married couple as husband and wife in their pastoral letter, “The Call to Marriage is Woven Deeply into the Human Spirit.” The five-page document, signed by Archbishop John J. Meyers, Archdiocese of Newark; Bishop Joseph A. Galante, Diocese of Camden; Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski, Diocese of Metuchen; Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, Diocese of Paterson; Bishop John M. Smith, Diocese of Trenton; and Bishop William Skurla, Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, is the latest in a series of statements by the New Jersey bishops on the same-sex marriage issue that began in 2004.

The letter was be released in parishes the weekend of Aug. 22-23 as the official kick-off to the New Jersey Statewide Initiative for Marriage Protection. The initiative, a joint project of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the dioceses of New Jersey and the Knights of Columbus, is an attempt to rally Catholics behind the prevention of state law that would expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. The campaign will continue through Oct. 15 and will include a state-wide drive for petitions in support of marriage that will be delivered to state legislators.

According to Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the launch date of the campaign was chosen to coincide with the second reading for that Sunday (Ephesians 5: 25-32), in which St. Paul describes the bond of marriage between husband and wife.

In their letter, the bishops emphasize that Church teaching has always clearly defined marriage as being a union between one man and one woman.

“This great truth about marriage is not some obscure doctrinal fine point but a fact of human nature, recognized from time immemorial by people of virtually every faith and culture,” the bishops’ message states. “God made us male and female; only men and women cooperating in marital love together can truly become one flesh, and only marital unions further God’s purpose of creating new life that is welcomed, loved, nurtured and educated by their mother and father.”

The bishops draw an important distinction between same-sex unions, which have been legalized in New Jersey under the Civil Union Act, and the concept of marriage. In a civil union, same-sex couples are afforded all of the same rights, benefits and protections under the law as a married heterosexual couple. But while marriage is regulated by civil law, the bishops explain, it is “a basic human and social institution” that originates from God.

“Therefore, neither the Church nor state can alter the basic meaning and structure of marriage,” they said.

The bishops have called upon Catholics to do their part in protecting the common good and holding their government accountable for their treatment of the institution of marriage. All Catholics, the bishops stated, should not only promote and protect marriage but also support those who are preparing to marry, those who choose to remain single and couples facing difficulty in their marriage.

The diocesan Office of Family Life will be distributing information via parish bulletin announcements and inserts throughout the campaign, including prayers for marriage, educational materials, articles and brochures. They will also assist parishes in promoting the petition drive.

For more information on the marriage initiative, including the full text of the bishops' statement, visit www.dioceseoftrenton.org/church/oneman-onewoman.asp