Ahead of a historic visit to the U.K., Pope Benedict XVI reiterates the church's opposition to gay marriage.

The pope reiterated that the Roman Catholic Church is opposed to laws that allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

“[T]he Church sees with concern the growing attempt to eliminate the Christian concept of marriage and family from the consciousness of society,” he told an audience while receiving Germany's new envoy to the Holly See. “Marriage is manifested as a lasting union of love between a man and a woman.”

“The Church cannot approve of legislative initiatives that involve a re-evaluation of alternative models of married life and family. They contribute to the weakening of the principles of natural law and … also to confusion about society's values.”

Several Catholic strongholds have recently legalized gay marriage over the strong objections of the church, including Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Mexico, where the country recognizes the gay marriages formed in Mexico City. More Latin American countries are expected to debate the issue this fall.

The Holy Father travels to England on September 16 for a four-day visit.

Benedict's remarks so close to his visit are certain to be heard by gay activists who are planning a number of events during his visit.

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) is holding a September 17 prayer vigil that, according to the group, will allow the pope to see the faces of those he has spoken against.

And the Protest the Pope coalition is organizing a variety of noisy demonstrations against the pope.