The leader of Boston's Roman Catholic Archdiocese asked Catholic lawyers and judges to oppose gay marriage in order to help protect what he called the beleaguered institutions of marriage and family.

"The social cost of the breakdown of family life has already been enormous," Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley (search) said Sunday at the annual Red Mass, which is dedicated to those in the legal system. Marriage and the family are "threatened as never before" in America, he added.

O'Malley, who has led the Boston Archdiocese (search) since July 30, didn't specify what legal professionals should do to protect marriage and the family. But afterward, he said in a brief interview, "We hope that they will use their profession and their understanding of the law to defend marriage."

"They're in a better position than any of us to understand what needs to be done to correct a very complicated situation that the court has put us in," he said.

The activists who pushed for the landmark Supreme Judicial Court (search) ruling said they remained baffled by claims that their desire to make their partnerships legally binding is threatening marriage and the family.

Hillary Goodridge, 47, a lead plaintiff with partner Julie Goodridge in the lawsuit that resulted in the recent ruling, said by phone that the issue at the core of the lawsuit was not morality, but "licenses handed out by the government."

"It's impossible for me to understand how Julie and I being married contributes to the breakdown of anything. It contributes to our economic and social well-being, it certainly contributes to the strength of our family and our enduring love for each other," she said.

Gay marriage has become a hot political issue in Massachusetts since the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in November that denying marriage rights to gays and lesbians was unconstitutional.

Gay and lesbian rights activists and their supporters applauded the ruling as a civil rights milestone. Plaintiffs in the suit were ecstatic, celebrating with immediate proposals of marriage to each other.

The ruling has also had critics, including the Catholic church. Some state lawmakers, who have until May to come up with legislation that complies with the court ruling, have been looking into whether the court would be satisfied by the passage of a "civil union" law like that passed in Vermont.

After the Mass, Former Supreme Judicial Court Justice Joseph R. Nolan, president of the Catholic Lawyers Guild, said he was "delighted" by O'Malley's words and called gay marriage an "abomination."

"We should speak against it. We should have the courage to speak against it," he said.

The Mass was followed by a Catholic Lawyers Guild luncheon at a Boston hotel. After the luncheon, former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork assailed the court ruling, saying it was "untethered from the state and federal constitutions."

"If anything justifies the term judicial tyranny, this one does," said Bork, 76, who converted last year to Catholicism, his wife's religion.

But Bork predicted that eventually, the Supreme Court will "go in the direction of" the Massachusetts court, and that gay marriage would become legal nationally.