The Pope put the battle against gay marriage at the top of the Catholic agenda this week in his annual state of the world address to Vatican diplomats, The New York Times reported.

Today the family is often threatened by social and cultural pressures that tend to undermine its stability; but in some countries the family is also threatened by legislation which -“ at times directly -“ challenges its natural structure, which is and must necessarily be that of a union between a man and a woman founded on marriage, the Pope said on Monday.

The pontiff also said family must never be undermined by laws based on a narrow and unnatural vision of man.

Australian Rainbow Sash Movement spokesperson Michael Kelly told Sydney Star Observer the Pope’s comments were perhaps prompted by the recent success of gay marriage in Spain and civil unions in New Zealand.

The rejection last year of conservative Catholic Italian minister Rocco Buttiglione from a European Union post for stating homosexuality was a sin was probably also a factor, Kelly said.

One thing we should probably take heart from is the Pope, or whoever writes the Pope’s speeches, knows they’re losing on this issue, he said.

The US gay rights group Human Rights Campaign responded swiftly and with less optimism.

Our families are threatened by a lack of legal protections, HRC’s Lisa Bennett said. All families deserve equal protection under the law. No religious institution will ever be forced to perform marriages with which they disagree. This is about loving, caring families who should be treated equally.

The comments reinforce statements made by the Pope in his pre-Christmas message last year, which argued gay marriage caused profound injury to society and provoked often irreparable damage.

US Rainbow Sash Movement spokesperson Joe Murray called such comments international gay bashing in a statement and urged the Pope to tone down his language and enter into public dialogue with gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender Catholics.

The Pope first called on Catholics to oppose the legal rights of gay people in August 2003. In August this year, he clarified his position in a letter to Catholic bishops that claimed feminism caused antagonism between men and women and normalised homosexuality.

Michael Kelly called the Pope’s theological arguments gobbledygook and nonsense.

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