VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI on Friday condemned gay marriage in a speech to bishops from the United States after Maryland last week became the eighth US state to legalise same-sex unions.
"Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage," the pope said, warning against "the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage".
"Marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature."
He also said bishops could not overlook "the serious pastoral problem presented by the widespread practice of cohabitation".
"The contemporary crisis of marriage and the family... has led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost," he added.
Benedict XVI has frequently warned against liberal family values in veiled references to homosexual marriage and adoptions by gay couples, and the Catholic Church often condemns countries that recognise gay rights.
The pope's fears that the traditional family is at risk are likely to be the focal point of the World Meeting of Families 2012 in Italy in June.
From Europe to the United States and Mexico, gay rights groups pushing for marriage and child adoption reforms are winning growing support, marking a change in public opinion which worries the Vatican.
The issue has sparked heated exchanges between Church leaders and politicians.
Earlier this month, Britain's Cardinal Keith O'Brien told Prime Minister David Cameron that same-sex unions were "madness" and a "grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right".
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