RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) — A federal judge’s decision to strike down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional has dealt “a severe blow to the citizens of our commonwealth,” two Catholic bishops said in a Feb. 14 statement.

“In striking down Virginia’s constitutional amendment affirming the institution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, Judge (Arenda) Wright Allen has not only totally ignored our state’s rights under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, she has also redefined marriage to the peril and detriment of our society,” said Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington.

Their statement was released by the Virginia Catholic Conference in Richmond, the bishops’ public policy arm.


Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court in Norfolk issued her decision late Feb. 13 in a lawsuit brought on behalf of two Virginia couples. One couple, Timothy Bostic and Tony London, have lived together for 20 years and were denied a marriage license in summer 2013 by Norfolk Circuit Court clerk. The other couple, Mary Townley and Carol Schall, were married in California and want Virginia to recognize their marriage.

Wright Allen ruled the Virginia Constitution’s same-sex marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

Same-sex relationships “are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices — choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference,” Wright Allen said. She stayed her ruling so an appeal can be filed, and same-sex marriage licenses will not be granted immediately.

Bishops DiLorenzo and Loverde said her decision “contradicts the wisdom and understanding of the ages. It strips marriage of its intrinsic meaning and converts it into nothing more than an arrangement that recognizes a voluntary relationship between any two consenting adults.”

“While all people should have the freedom to form attachments and relationships as they wish, the union of a man and a woman, in marriage, makes a unique contribution to the creation, protection and well-being of children,” they said. “It is more than a ‘consenting relationship.’ It is a union that — alone and uniquely — unites the two complementary halves of humanity, a man and a woman, to cooperate with the Author of Life to create new life.”

In 2006, Virginia voters approved the constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples. The ballot initiative passed 57 percent to 43 percent.

On Jan. 23, Attorney General Mark Herring of Virginia announced he would not defend the amendment in upcoming lawsuits at federal district courts.

In reaction to Herring’s announcement, Bishops DiLorenzo and Loverde expressed disappointment, vowing to continue their defense of traditional marriage.

In their Feb. 14 statement on Wright Allen’s “fundamentally flawed” decision, they reiterated that pledge, saying they would continue to work with groups defending the state constitution to protect traditional marriage. “As bishops we will continue to continue to teach the truth about marriage,” they added.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and that sex outside marriage is a sin.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” but also says homosexuals must be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Bishops DiLorenzo and Loverde said Wright Allen’s ruling “undermines our right” as a state to define marriage. They pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor: The court found the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional but also required the federal government to respect the primacy of the states in defining marriage. They also referred to the 10th Amendment, which states that the powers not delegated to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Traditional marriage “alone provides children the opportunity to be nurtured and to learn from both a mother and a father, each of whom brings unique gifts to the family, the fundamental building block of society,” the bishops said.

They added: “The institution of marriage is rooted in natural law itself, a design written on our hearts by our Creator. No religion, government or individual has the right or legitimate authority to alter the fundamental meaning and structure of marriage that has existed from the beginning of humankind. And certainly, no court decision, either in Virginia or elsewhere, can change that meaning.”

In recent months decisions similar to Wright Allen’s have been handed down by federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma. On Feb. 12, a federal judge ruled that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states or other countries; a Kentucky couple sued the state Feb. 14 to force the state to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Similar lawsuits have been filed in Alabama and Louisiana.

In Nevada, supporters of same-sex marriage want to put a measure on the ballot in 2016 to allow voters to decide to change the state constitution and allow such unions.