NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The leader of more than 1 million Roman Catholics in northern New Jersey is urging parishioners to vote “in defense of marriage and life.”

Newark Archbishop John Myers released a pastoral statement Tuesday that calls on Catholics to examine how political candidates stand on abortion and “a proper backing of marriage.”

EXTRA: Read The Pastoral Letter (pdf)

In the letter, Myers said traditional marriage and religious freedom is under attack and that Catholics who support same-sex marriage should refrain from receiving Holy Communion.

1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports

” If they’re truly in opposition to the Church on serious matters then they’re not in full communion with the church,” Myers told 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg.

The archbishop believes you can love and respect gays while condemning their acts, Sandberg reported.

“You can have the inclination and not act on it just as a celibate person can be attracted to women and not act on it,” Myers said.

Myers insists his statement is not intended as an endorsement for either political party and is not telling parishioners whom to vote for.

“It’s rather to say this is a matter of more urgency than some people understand,” Myers said.

The archbishop says he’s been thinking about issuing a statement on the subject for about a year because he believes there’s been a lack of clarity.

The diocese includes churches in Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Union counties.

State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, one of the prime sponsors of legislation to provide for marriage equality in New Jersey, issued the following remarks in response to Myers’ pastoral statement:

“I am saddened by Archbishop Myers’ comments about marriage equality, and about his pastoral statement which equates gay marriage to incest. I believe that the Archbishop should temper his remarks. Words are hurtful and to put gay couples in the same category as incest perpetrators is hurtful, not helpful.

As someone who was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, I know that the Catholic Church is capable of amazing acts of kindness, generosity, and social progressiveness. Throughout its history, the Catholic Church has stood against the tyranny of despots, has opposed slavery, has been on the front lines to fight the exploitation of factory workers during the dawn of the Industrial Age, and has marched with people of varied faith, race and creed in the quest for civil rights in the 1960s. The Church provides alms for the poor, operates food kitchens and emergency shelters in our inner cities, and is committed to educating our children, from pre-K through college.

However, when church officials point to their religious doctrine as justification to deny the unalienable rights of others, that calls into question the many good deeds of the church as a whole. When church officials promote an unblinking worldview that invalidates the loving relationships of others as wrong or evil, they are not following that most basic of Catholic teachings – ‘God is Love.’

Archbishop Myers, through his pastoral statement, has urged Catholic voters to oppose efforts – and by proxy, candidates – which, according to his estimation, undermine the sanctity of marriage, and has said that Catholics who disagree with the Roman Catholic Church position on gay marriage should refrain from taking communion. By way of contrast, I would urge Catholic voters to focus on the aspects of their faith that build up, rather than tear down – build up our communities, build up our nation, and provide a helping hand to lift up those in need. If they take those values into the ballot box, I am confidant that most Catholic voters will pay little attention to a candidate’s stance on gay marriage.”

Steven Goldstein, Chair of Garden State Equality, the state’s largest gay rights organization, issued the following statement Tuesday:

“First, though we at Garden State Equality profoundly disagree with Archbishop Myers’ views on a number of public policy issues, including marriage equality, we express our appreciation to the Catholic Church for its leadership in helping the poor, the homeless and the hungry. Polarization in politics must not blind us from complementing our opponents where they stand up for certain values we have in common.

Secondly, Archbishop Myers is entitled to speak out as he wishes on public policy issues, as he has done here. Though he comes close to having his church endorse candidates in violation of the law, the real test will be how his statement is used at the local level, especially considering that we are now in the heart of the campaign season.

Thirdly, we must address Archbishop Myers’ remarks, which compare being gay to incest. When those with whom you differ make remarks that millions will find hurtful, and millions more will find alienating, it’s best to let those astonishing remarks speak for themselves.

That said, we’re not sure why Archbishop Myers would want to widen the gap between his own views and the majority of Catholics who favor marriage equality. As The Bergen Record reported today, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of American Catholics favor marriage equality, and the number rises to 72 percent among Catholics between the ages of 18 and 34.

We at Garden State Equality are deeply proud that so many of our members are practicing Catholics, both straight and LGBT Catholics alike.”

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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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