Recent events show that no issue is more likely to trip up the Church's efforts in the public square in coming years than the apparently inevitable expansion of a range of rights to homosexuals -- and the denial of freedom-of-conscience rights to those who object.

The latest hurdle is the mid-October ruling of Connecticut's Supreme Court that homosexuals have a right to marry, making it the third state to do so (and the third to do so by judicial fiat). Deploring the ruling, the state's bishops approvingly cited a point made by the justice writing the dissent: "The ancient definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman has its basis in biology, not bigotry."

Deploring the court's imposition of a "social experiment" on the state, the bishops are urging voters to overturn it through a constitutional amendment.

This is not just a matter of a principled stand, although the social consequences of eliminating support for traditional marriage are severe. Given the willingness of certain courts to impose such rights, there's also a real related concern about infringement on religious liberty and freedom of speech.

"The real battle in this court case was not about rights, since civil unions provide a vast number of legal rights to same-sex couples," the Connecticut bishops say, "but about conferring and enforcing social acceptance of a particular lifestyle; a lifestyle many people of faith and advocates of the natural law refuse to accept."

Connecticut's situation is by no means isolated. California and Massachusetts also have legalized same-sex marriage. Civil unions or domestic partnerships are allowed for same-sex couples in Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Oregon, Hawaii, Maine, Washington state and the District of Columbia.

Currently 26 states, including Oregon, have constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. On Nov. 4 voters in three other states -- California, Arizona and Florida --will have an opportunity to pass constitutional amendments defining marriage.

One of the Church's leading voices of support on the California initiative is San Diego Auxiliary Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, who told Our Sunday Visitor in an interview in last week's issue that there are already signs across the country of government-enforced acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. He cited a Methodist church in New Jersey that had the nonprofit status of its beach camp revoked after it refused to rent out the property to a lesbian couple to celebrate their civil union.

Potential problems for Catholics, he said, include Church schools being forced to employ teachers in same-sex marriages and enroll children of publicly same-sex couples, and possibly even modify the curriculum to be approving of homosexual behavior. Catholic Charities could be forced to provide marriage counseling to same-sex couples. And some homosexual activists predict that pastors who refuse to perform same-sex marriages will have their license to perform marriages revoked.

Nor is this only a U.S. phenomenon. Britain's Catholic Church also has faced recent government pressure to accept the homosexual lifestyle in its social services and schools (see Page 5).

So this is not just a live-and-let-live issue. It's important for Catholics to get informed and involved. Supporting traditional marriage is based on biology, not bigotry.