WASHINGTON, January 13, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Leaders of some of the largest religious communities in the United States have joined together in an open letter to all Americans to voice their shared concern for marriage and religious freedom.

The letter, titled “Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together,” was released January 12. It can be found at . Signatories include leaders from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Lutheran, Mormon, and Pentecostal communities in the United States.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was one of the four signing Catholic bishops.

“Marriage and religious liberty are at a crisis point in the United States,” he said. “This letter is a sign of hope. Not only are tens of millions of believing citizens represented in the letter’s signatories, but the letter itself testifies to the growing and shared awareness of just how important marriage and religious freedom are to the well being of our country. The letter makes a compelling argument that needs to be heard by all of us, especially those in positions of authority: anyone truly concerned with religious freedom must also be a defender of marriage’s perennial definition.”

In the letter, the leaders counter a common claim that the principal threat to religious freedom is the possibility of ministers being forced to officiate same-sex “weddings.”

The leaders wrote: “We believe the most urgent peril is this: forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations—throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies—to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct.There is no doubt that the many people and groups whose moral and religious convictions forbid same-sex sexual conduct will resist the compulsion of the law, and church-state conflicts will result.”

They added that “these conflicts bear serious consequences.”

“They will arise in a broad range of legal contexts, because altering the civil definition of ‘marriage’ does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands, at once.By a single stroke, every law where rights depend on marital status—such as employment discrimination, employment benefits, adoption, education, healthcare, elder care, housing, property, and taxation—will change so that same-sex sexual relationships must be treated as if they were marriage. That requirement, in turn, will apply to religious people and groups in the ordinary course of their many private or public occupations and ministries—including running schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other housing facilities, providing adoption and counseling services, and many others,” they said.

The leaders warned that redefining marriage has consequences for the religious freedom of all Americans and urged civic leaders to defend marriage so as also to defend religious liberty.

“We especially urge those entrusted with the public good to support laws that uphold the time-honored definition of marriage, and so avoid threatening the religious freedom of countless institutions and citizens in this country,” the religious leaders said. “Marriage and religious freedom are both deeply woven into the fabric of this nation.”

The release of the letter comes days before the presidential proclamation for Religious Freedom Day (January 16) and a few weeks before World Marriage Day (February 12) and National Marriage Week USA (February 7-14). The letter follows a letter of shared commitment released December 6, 2010.