Pope John Paul II pressed his campaign against gay unions on Sunday, calling for greater defense of the institution of marriage between man and woman and saying a "misunderstood" sense of rights was altering it.
The pope's comments came amid a Vatican campaign cracking down on same-sex unions, which have won legal boosts in recent months following landmark court decisions in Canada, Massachusetts and elsewhere.
In his weekly Sunday comments in St. Peter's Square, John Paul said marriage, which the Vatican defines as a sacred union between man and woman, was a "human and divine" gift that should be defended by society.
"In our times, a misunderstood sense of rights has sometimes disturbed the nature of the family institution and conjugal bond itself," he said.
"It is necessary that at every level, the efforts of those who believe in the importance of the family based on matrimony unite," he said.
In July, the Vatican launched a global campaign against gay unions in a bid to stem the tide of widening legal recognition for same-sex marriages in Europe, North America and elsewhere.
The Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a document saying Catholic politicians had a "moral duty" to oppose laws granting legal rights to gay couples, and that non-Catholics should follow their lead since the issue concerns "natural moral law."
"To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral," the document said, although it didn't specify penalties for Catholics who do.
It was issued just a month after an appeals court in Ontario ruled that Canada's definition of marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. Based on that ruling and a similar one in British Columbia, Canada is expected to introduce legislation legalizing gay marriage next year.
In the US, Vermont has a "civil union" law giving same-sex couples the rights of traditional marriages. And last month, the highest court in Massachusetts ruled that it was unconstitutional to bar gay couples from marriage and gave the state legislature 180 days to rewrite the state's marriage laws to provide benefits for gay couples.
Some Republican lawmakers have called for a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriages nationwide; President George W. Bush has declined to join their calls for now, but he has said marriage is a union between man and woman.
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