Those in favor of the traditional concept of marriage have found it hard in recent years to propose their arguments in an environment in which so-called "gay marriage" has been framed as a civil right, and which immediately brands them as "gay-bashers."

It seems to me that, especially since the nation is pretty evenly split on the issue (according to a May Gallup poll) and that CEOs, snack companies and mayors are taking sides, some clarification of the issues is in order.

First of all, we who are opposed to homosexual "marriage" are not opposed to people, but to ideas; not to homosexuals, but to the belief that what a man and a woman have in marriage is also what two men or two women would have.

We do not hate people who have homosexual tendencies. We want the best for them, just as we want the best for everyone else, and we are appalled when hate crimes are committed against people with orientations over which they have no control.

We are not opposed to friendship. We are not opposed to love. We are not opposed to lifelong dedication to another individual of the same sex. We are not opposed to people of the same sex living together. Not only is it a useful economic arrangement, but it provides an environment of companionship and support, especially when the roommates are good friends. We are not even opposed to signs of affection.

What we do oppose is the legal redefinition of marriage to include a homosexual relationship. Marriage is not a governmental or juridical invention. It existed before societies formulated any legal system. It is written into our very nature, like friendship, the need for food and a longing for transcendence.

Marriage is not merely a legal arrangement that ratifies two people's love for each other. If that were so, then my love for every friend I have would require legal ratification in some way. Rather, marriage is a public good. It creates a family, the most basic cell of the community, within which a man and a woman who promise to love each other (which entails not abandoning each other) enjoy a permanent and secure environment in which they and their children are able to grow. Indeed, without this environment, people, especially children, are not able to flourish.

There is something special about marriage which is found in no other relationship. The reason we believe that marriage demands legal protection is because it, unlike any other relationship, forms and propagates the basic cell of society, the family.

No other human relationship bears children. No other human relationship requires, by its nature, that those parties train and educate their children. No other human relationship is partly defined by the complementarity of the male and female bodies which those in a marriage have, by which they bond, unite and make babies. To simply invent, or reinvent, this natural part of human life by a legal definition is wrong.

(Father Quinn is associate pastor of Blessed Sacrament parish in Albany.)