The pope pressed his opposition to gay marriage Friday, denouncing what he described as people eschewing their God-given gender identities to suit their sexual choices – and destroying the very "essence of the human creature" in the process.
Benedict XVI made the comments in his annual Christmas address to the Vatican bureaucracy, one of his most important speeches of the year.
He dedicated it this year to promoting traditional family values in the face of gains by same-sex marriage proponents in the U.S. and Europe and efforts to legalize gay marriage in places like France and Britain.
It was the second time in a week that Benedict has taken on the question of gay marriage, which is currently dividing France, and which scored big electoral wins in the United States last month. In his recently released annual peace message, Benedict said gay marriage, like abortion and euthanasia, was a threat to world peace.
The Vatican went on a similar anti-gay marriage media blitz last month after three U.S. states approved gay marriage by popular vote. After the peace message was released last week, gay activists staged a small protest in St. Peter's Square. On Friday, gay activists sharply criticized the pope's take on gender theory and insisted that where gay marriage has been legalized, families are no worse off. Italy's main gay rights group Arcigay called the pope's comments "absurd, dangerous and totally out of synch with reality."
And a coalition of four U.S. Catholic organizations representing gay, lesbian and transgender people said the pope had an "outmoded" view of what it means to be man and woman. "Increasingly Catholics in the United States and around the world see what we see. Catholics, following their own well-formed consciences, are voting to support equal rights for LGBT people because in their churches and communities they see a far healthier, godly and realistic vision of the human family than the one offered by the pope," according to a statement from the groups Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.
For the Vatican, though, the gay marriage issue goes beyond questions of homosexuality, threatening what the church considers to be the bedrock of society: a family based on a man, woman and their children.
The Vatican's opposition to gay marriage has been falling largely on deaf ears. In addition to the U.S. election gains, the Constitutional Court in largely Roman Catholic Spain upheld the law legalizing gay marriage last month. Earlier this month, the British government announced it will introduce a bill next year legalizing gay marriage, though it would ban the Church of England from conducting same-sex ceremonies.