CAMDEN, NJ, February 15, 2008 ( – The Catholic bishops of New Jersey have designated February 17, 2008 as a Day of Prayer for marriage. The bishops have called for the day of prayer to draw attention to the importance of strong marriages, to encourage Catholics to pray for married couples to persevere in their vocation, and to urge Catholics to defend marriage as a sacramental union between one man and one woman.  

The appeal from the bishops comes in a joint letter from Archbishop John Myers (Newark), Bishop John Bootkoski (Metuchen), Bishop John Smith (Trenton), Bishop Arthur Serratelli (Paterson), Bishop William Skurla (Passaic), Bishop Joseph Younan (Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic diocese) and Bishop Joseph Galante (Camden). The bishops have asked that the letter be read at all Masses on Sunday February 17.

Citing threats to marriage, including divorce and same-sex unions, the bishops said, “As Catholics, we do not stand by in silence in the face of these challenges that threaten the sanctity of marriage.  We do not shirk our responsibility.”

The appeal from the New Jersey bishops is the second since 2006.  The New Jersey bishops in December 2006 wrote to members of the New Jersey state legislature after the state Supreme Court held in Lewis v. Harris  that same-sex couples are entitled to the same equal protection as heterosexual couples under the state constitution.  The Court called on the state legislature to create civil unions or amend the state marriage laws.

In response to the Lewis v. Harris decision, the New Jersey state legislature passed the New Jersey Civil Union Act, which took effect February 19, 2007.   In doing so, it became the third state to offer civil unions to same-sex couples.  Connecticut and Vermont also offer civil unions, Massachusetts allows same-sex couples to marry, while California has domestic partnerships.

The Civil Union Act also created a Review Commission to study all aspects of the Act, to evaluate the effectiveness of its implementation and to determine if additional protections are needed.

The commission, which first met in June and which holds monthly public meetings in Trenton on the third Wednesday of each month, has drawn criticism for being weighted in favor of members who favor a redefining of marriage to include same-sex couples. 

Assemblyman Richard A. Merkt (R-Morris County) criticized the commission in an October New York Times article for not including anyone supportive of the traditional understanding of marriage.  “A lot of people who favor retaining the law as it is basically feel disenfranchised by the entire process,” he told the Times.

Vice chair of the commission, Steven Goldstein, is head of Garden State Equality, the state’s largest homosexual advocacy organization.  The Garden State’s website makes clear its dissatisfaction with the state’s civil union act and that it is working vigorously toward “marriage equality” and sees the Commission as a vehicle to advance marriage equality goals.

Meanwhile, the city of Vineland in December became the second municipality in the state (Elizabeth was the first) to send a resolution to lawmakers in Trenton defining marriage as between one man and one woman only.  The Vineland City Council voted 4-1, to approve a resolution titled, “A resolution in support of preserving, protecting and defending the institution of marriage, as being between one man and one woman and insuring that civil union partners are not the subject of discrimination regarding benefits.”