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Catholic leaders rejected President Obama’s declaration during a television interview on May 9 that “personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

“President Obama’s words today are not surprising since they follow upon various actions already taken by his administration that erode or ignore the unique meaning of marriage,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement released the same day. “We cannot be silent in the face of words or actions that would undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of our society,” he added. “The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better.”

In December 2010, Obama said his views on same-sex marriage were “evolving” and that he “struggles with this,” adding he would continue thinking about the issue. On May 10 the president said he had wanted to announce his support for such unions “in my own way, on my own terms” but acknowledged that remarks a few days earlier by Vice President Joseph Biden prompted his announcement.

On May 6 Biden, a Catholic, said he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex couples marrying, adding they should get “the same exact rights” heterosexual married couples receive.

“I pray for the president every day, and will continue to pray that he and his administration act justly to uphold and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” Cardinal Dolan said.

The Catholic Church upholds the sanctity of traditional marriage as being only between one man and one woman and also teaches that any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful, but across the country the views of many Catholics appear to be trending toward support of same-sex marriage. A poll conducted in March jointly by the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service found overall Catholic support for same-sex marriage to be 59 percent, with 36 percent opposed. Support by Americans overall is at 52 percent, with 44 percent opposed. Among white Catholics 57 percent support same-sex marriage and 37 percent oppose it.

According to polls conducted over the past five years by a number of different research and media outlets, public support for same-sex marriage has risen from 40 percent in 2006 to majority support today. The demographic groups that showed majority opposition to same-sex marriage were respondents age 65 and up, white evangelicals, Republicans, African-Americans and those with a high school education or less.

In a statement on May 9, the Archdiocese of Washington said it “opposes the redefinition of marriage based on the clear understanding that the complementarity of man and woman is intrinsic to the meaning of marriage. The word ‘marriage’ describes the exclusive and lifelong union of one man and one woman open to generating and nurturing children. Other unions exist, but they are not marriage.” The archdiocese said it would “continue to strongly advocate for the federal government’s existing definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”