As Catholics, our role in the ongoing debate over marriage is rooted in our religious faith. We believe that Jesus Christ gave us a way to live that reflects God’s loving plan for creation and for each of our lives. We believe that love and marriage and sexuality — the fact that we are born male or female — are a profound part of God’s plan for our happiness and the good of society.We also recognize that we live in a pluralistic society. We know our neighbors aren’t necessarily going to share our beliefs. In fact, we understand that our society is becoming more secularized and less interested in traditional forms of religious belief. As society becomes more secularized, our Catholic beliefs become more “countercultural” and more difficult for our neighbors to understand. As God becomes less important in secularized society, the individual takes God’s place as the supreme goal and concern of society. So right now, we are living in a culture that puts the highest value on people’s freedom to follow their own chosen paths to what they think will make them happy. Everything in American culture — and increasingly everything in American law and public policy — is “refracted” through this prism of extreme individualism. That includes our thinking about love, marriage, the family, sexuality and the meaning of life. As a result, many of our neighbors are demanding the “right” to define these realities according to their own personal needs. Many of their definitions are radically different from the definitions given to us by Jesus and his Church. These definitions are radically different from those that have guided Western civilization for thousands of years. All of this is happening rapidly, within the past few decades. This has become a source of growing debate and tension in our society. That’s why the Supreme Court’s decisions are disturbing. The Court seemed to make no effort to understand those who believe in the traditional vision of marriage. Laws and policies that reaffirm the reality of marriage as a union of one man and one woman are motivated only by the desire to “humiliate” and “to disparage and to injure,” according to the Court’s majority opinion.This is just not true. And the Court presented no proof. The federal law in question was passed by more than 400 Senators and Representatives and signed by the President. California’s Proposition 8 was passed by a majority of the state’s voters. Can all these people be hateful and prejudiced?As we go forward in this debate about the meaning of marriage, we all need to try to respect one another more. We need to work to defend everybody’s civil and human rights, no matter what their religious beliefs or lifestyle choices. And we all need to respect the rights of those who disagree with us — especially their right to express their opinions and to try to convince others to share their opinions.For us as Catholics, marriage will always be something more than a committed relationship among consenting adults. For us marriage is a reality in the order of nature and God’s plan. We believe that God made men and women with different bodies but equal dignity and worth. In God’s plan the differences between men and women are meant to complement and complete each other in bringing about new life. In biblical language, man and woman are made to “become one flesh” in marriage. Only this relationship can bring forth new life. Only this relationship can be called marriage. Other kinds of relationships — no matter how loving — cannot. These are our deeply held religious beliefs. At this moment, when courts, legislatures and public opinion seem to be increasingly intolerant of our beliefs, Catholics need to insist on our basic rights —to hold our beliefs, to express them, to invite others to share our beliefs, and to run our institutions according to our beliefs. Let’s pray for our country in this week when we have become more aware of the dramatic changes that are taking place in our society. And let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary and St. Joseph her husband, to help us all to live out the truths of our religion with greater love, with greater joy and with new enthusiasm. Follow Archbishop Gomez at {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0705/gomezcol/{/gallery}