"Our opponents had succeeded in defining the issue as a matter of 'choice,' making us look like a side that favored restricting choice rather than the one that supported life," he said. "We need to find a way to position ourselves as pro-marriage."
Dolan addressed another issue of controversy when he spoke of Obama's mandate that most employers provide health insurance that covers contraception.
He has repeatedly called the mandate a violation of religious liberty and said that while the bishops hadn't decided exactly how to react when the health care plan goes into effect, they would resist it.
"Every door is open but capitulation," he said.
As the bishops voted on measures Tuesday afternoon, opponents of their position on gay marriage gathered outside the hotel to protest.
Jon O'Brien, director of Catholics for Choice, a nonprofit organization, said this week's assembly was "an opportunity for the bishops to realize the error of their ways."
Catholics United and Faithful America, also nonprofits, delivered a petition bearing 20,000 signatures that called for the bishops to "refocus their attention on caring for the poor and vulnerable" and to end what it described as the conference's association with the Republican Party.
Dolan never met with the protesters, but he said he wished he could have.
"Most of the emails I get tell me we're too far on the social justice side of things," he said. "But even if we were alienating people with our positions, we wouldn't change them. We didn't invent these issues. But we will speak about them with vigor."