After a long and protracted fight, a slim majority has prevailed in the Maryland state House and Senate and forced through a law that legalizes same-sex marriage in the state. Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Catholic, not only supported the law, but sponsored it after a similar measure failed last year. There is no doubt that he will sign it.

This is lamentable and it is wrong. With the vote - which supporters claim is a matter of fairness and justice - a handful of legislators have redefined marriage, deciding what it should be, what is should look like and what it should mean.

The Archdiocese of Washington, the Maryland Catholic Conference, many Protestant churches and others of goodwill fought a valiant fight to stop this. The archdiocese said in a statement that 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 with the possibility of generating and nurturing children. Other unions exist, but they are not marriage."

Because of its conviction that marriage should not be redefined, the Archdiocese of Washington has joined those other groups in supporting a referendum push that would put this issue on the ballot in November.

The archdiocese makes a good point when it says "other unions exist, but they are not marriage." There are already plenty of laws that protect same-sex couples who are in either domestic partnerships or civil unions. Redefining marriage gives these couples nothing that they do not already have.

Same-sex couples in Maryland enjoy all the freedoms that any other person has. There are laws that protect them against employment and housing discrimination. There are documents that allow them to make end-of-life decisions and inherit property. They have the right to adopt children.

This law passed by the Maryland legislature is a slap against those who believe what the Catholic Church teaches: marriage is a union of one man and one woman with an essential connection to the creation and well-being of children. The welfare of children should never - ever! - be sacrificed for the "rights" of adults to call any of their relationships a marriage.

Combine this with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Jan. 20 mandate that faith-based institutions must offer employer-provided health insurance that includes coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization, and there can be no wonder that our bishops are warning about a full-on assault on what Catholics and many Christians hold as true, undeniable moral tenets of faith.

Part of what makes this same-sex marriage issue so gray for many Catholics is that we do not hold any malice, spite or ill will against those who have same-sex attraction or who are in same-sex relationships. We just do not want marriage to be redefined. We know that marriage is not a fluid, subjective, change-on-a-whim institution.

Often, opponents of any redefinition of marriage are called intolerant, hate-filled, homophobic and a host of other names. Of course this is not true. This is ironic because many of the same-sex marriage supporters who hurl those invectives are the same ones who work with Church officials and Catholics on a host of other peace and social justice causes. Surely they have seen us up close, know where our hearts are, and must know that our actions are motivated by love - for God, His Church, the morals and values it teaches and our fellow man - and not by hate.

Redefining marriage is harmful. It does not promote the fairness, inclusiveness and justice that same-sex marriage proponents claim it does. We must stand with our Catholic leaders who are working to erase this action by the Maryland General Assembly and governor. We must educate ourselves on what the Church really teaches about marriage. And, we must do those things with love, with compassion and with the strong and firm knowledge that we are on the morally right side of this issue.