WELLINGTON, New Zealand (CNS) — New Zealand’s Catholic bishops described as “bizarre” parliament’s vote that discards the understanding of traditional marriage when it approved a same-sex marriage law.

The bishops also expressed sadness that the April 17 action was taken despite widespread opposition from New Zealanders.

“We find it bizarre that what has been discarded is an understanding of marriage that has its origins in human nature and common to every culture, and that almost all references to husband and wife will be removed from legislation referencing marriage. We know many New Zealanders stand with us in this,” said Archbishop John A. Dew of Wellington, president of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Legislators voted 77 to 44 to approve the measure, making New Zealand the 13th nation to recognize same-sex marriage.

While distancing himself from offensive remarks by opponents of the measure, Archbishop Dew said he had wanted a robust, vigorous and respectful debate prior to the vote.

“From our point of view, we do believe that there has been a respectful listening to each other,” he added.

Archbishop Dew also said he would like more time to discuss the full implications of the move because “some people would think if it’s legal, it’s moral.”

After the vote, the archbishop, representing the bishops’ conference, said marriage is founded on sexual difference and the traditional definition of marriage reflects that understanding.

“Marriage is the essential human institution that predates religion and state. It is a committed union between a man and a woman, which has a natural orientation toward the procreation of human life,” he said.

The law will not require religious institutions to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. However, questions remain whether religious congregations will be required to rent facilities for receptions involving same-sex couples or face the possibility of a lawsuit based on discrimination grounds.

Before the debate, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, who is Catholic, called the change “harmless,” but that he would not support it because it did not represent a benchmark for equality.

The Pacific Conference of Churches, which represents 38 Catholic and Protestant churches in the Pacific region, said New Zealand’s action would not affect its members.

General Secretary Rev. Francois Pihaatae told Radio Australia that same-sex marriage remains against God’s will.

“Pacific churches are very much conservative and also really hard to convert to this new idea of same-sex marriage,” he said. “I don’t think that the decision of the New Zealand government will change the discussion.”