With members of Equality Maine gathering signatures to put same-sex marriage back on the ballot in a state that rejected it just two years ago, it’s clear the advocates of transforming marriage from one man and one woman to two of anybody (a change that will inevitably lead to any number of anybodies in any combination) haven’t given up on their agenda.

Still, no state has ever approved same-sex marriage by popular vote, and some that have it (like Iowa) only offer a handful of judges to point to as markers of “popular support.”

In fact, the referendum campaign itself is a sign of reduced support in Maine. The last time this issue came up for a vote, it was because a people’s veto effort was mounted against a bill passed by a Democratic-controlled Legislature and signed by a Democratic governor.

After the 2010 election, however, same-sex marriage advocates have zero chance of getting such a bill passed or signed, so they are taking their only other option. But don’t be fooled by their rhetoric: They are not dealing from the position of political strength they had in 2009, and they know it.

Unfortunately, though, the situation with this and other “social issues” at the national level remains in the hands of a very liberal administration.

Which is why the leaders of one organization with much to protect, the Roman Catholic Church, are stepping up their efforts to tell 60 million Catholics (and by extension tens of millions of traditional Protestants, Orthodox Christians, many Jews and, yes, Muslims) that central tenets of their faiths are under serious assault.

On Sept. 29, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, the umbrella policy group of American Catholicism, announced the formation of an “Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.”

Why might the bishops be concerned about freedoms that are protected both in ordinary law and the Bill of Rights?

They’re worried because they have good reason to think that our current national leadership places other priorities much higher than mere constitutionally protected liberties.

In a statement released by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the council, the committee’s purpose is “to address the increasing threats to religious liberty in our society so that the church’s mission may advance unimpeded and the rights of believers of any religious persuasion or none may be respected.”

Dolan listed six areas of concern “arising just since June”:

• Rules from the Department of Health and Human Services would mandate the inclusion of abortion-causing contraceptives and sterilization in all private health plans, thereby requiring groups and individuals with moral objections to such things to pay for them or provide them to others.

• HHS requires that USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services provide “the full range of reproductive services” — that is, abortion and contraception — to refugees and others under the private agency’s care.

• There are provisions that HIV prevention programs conducted by Catholic Relief Services require condom distribution and other contraceptive services to its clients abroad.

• “The Justice Department’s attack on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has presented DOMA’s support for traditional marriage as bigotry.” (DOMA was signed by President Bill Clinton, I would point out.) The USCCB concludes that if this view is adopted by the courts, it will result in “church-state conflicts for years to come.”

• New York state’s new law redefining marriage offers “only a very narrow religious exemption. Already, county clerks face legal action for refusing to participate in same-sex unions” (in an attempt to drive traditional Christians out of such jobs completely, I would guess) and “gay rights advocates are publicly emphasizing how little religious freedom protection” is available under the new law to those with faith-based objections to it.

• Finally, the USCCB condemns the Justice Department’s “recent attack on the critically important ‘ministerial exception.’ ” The exception says churches, not the state, have the right to determine who is qualified to perform religiously related duties.

But Justice, in a current case involving a teacher in a Lutheran school, has denied not just the school’s claim the post was religious, but that the exception should apply to anyone (except possibly a tiny minority of church workers).

If that view prevails, it could spur suits against a church’s standards for any of its staffers, including that some be men. Or, for that matter, heterosexual.

Thus, “separation of church and state” only seems to work one way with these people.

Now, I’m not a Roman Catholic, and I don’t hold to every detail of that church’s teachings on these issues. But it seems very likely that faithful Catholics and other faith groups are at greater risk of government-sponsored persecution now than at any time in our history.

Is “persecution” too strong a word? Watch people lose their jobs, or a valued hospital, school or adoption service close, because the government dislikes their religious views, and then tell me if it is OK.

M.D. Harmon is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or at: [email protected]