For the Vatican, though, the gay marriage issue goes beyond questions of homosexuality, threatening what the church considers to be the bedrock of society: a family based on a man, woman and their children.
In his speech, the pope cited Bernheim as lamenting how a new "philosophy of sexuality" has taken hold, whereby sex and gender are "no longer a given element of nature that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society."
He said God had created man and woman as a specific "duality" -- "an essential aspect of what being human is all about."
Now, though, "Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his own nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will."
The Vatican's opposition to gay marriage has been falling largely on deaf ears. Under then-Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the largely Roman Catholic Spain legalized gay marriage. Three U.S. states approved same-sex marriage by popular vote in November elections. Earlier this month, the British government announced it will introduce a bill next year legalizing gay marriage, though it would ban the Church of England from conducting same-sex ceremonies.
In France, President Francois Hollande has said he would enact his "marriage for everyone" plan within a year of taking office last May. The text will go to parliament next month. But the country has been divided by vocal opposition from religious leaders, prime among them Bernheim, as well as some politicians and parts of rural France.
The Socialist government's plan also envisions legalizing same-sex adoptions. Benedict quoted Bernheim as denouncing the plan, saying that it would mean a child would essentially be considered an object people have a right to obtain."When freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God," Benedict said.