Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said he’s disturbed by a federal judge’s June 6 decision to overturn a 2006 amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution outlawing same-sex marriage that was voted on by the people.

“One judge takes it upon herself to challenge the will of the state, which is not necessarily what is coming from the citizens of the state,” he told the Catholic Herald Monday, June 9, referring to U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb. “Basically, this was a national effort and a national agenda that is attacking every state and each state should have a right to charter its own course.”

He said Crabb’s decision to rule unconstitutional Article XIII, Section 13 of Wisconsin’s Constitution, defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, will not change church teaching.

“The teaching remains the same; marriage is between one man, one woman and there is logic to that,” the archbishop said, pointing to marriage as a means for propagation of the species, and the family unit as the basic unit of a stable society. “There are all sorts of natural reasons and on top of that, the aspect of the sacredness for us as Catholics, reflected in a relationship between a man and a woman, and when a court or any entity tries to redefine the reality, we have an obligation as teachers – I have an obligation – to voice my opposition to that and offer the appropriate teaching to the people.”

Bishop Donald J. Hying also addressed the issue in this week’s Herald of Hope, noting the decision and media attention has everyone in Wisconsin praying, talking, thinking and asking complex and challenging questions surrounding marriage, family and homosexuality. 

“As local media have been filled with images of same-sex couples marrying at the courthouse, amid hugs, kisses and tears, we readily acknowledge the human dignity, good will and loving intentions of these couples,” he wrote. “As Catholics, however, we know there are deep values at stake in this same-sex marriage debate that need to be affirmed.”

Bishop Hying wrote that rapidly shifting cultural and legal norms regarding same-sex marriage may make the sociological, philosophical and theological points seem “archaic, prejudiced and unjust.”

But, as Catholics, he explained, “we cannot disregard or redefine 2,000 years of moral belief, built on the authority of the Scriptures, the traditional teaching of the magisterium and the wisdom of natural law.” 

In his column, he wrote that part of authentic love is speaking the truth, even when that truth is difficult to hear or is rejected.

Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison responded to the ruling by saying marriage is – “and can only ever be” – a relationship “solely between one man and one woman, regardless of the decision of a judge or any vote.”

“This is not based on any private sectarian viewpoint, but on the natural moral law that is universally binding on all peoples, at all times, and inscribed into our human nature, as man and woman from the beginning of creation,” he said.

Almost immediately, county clerk offices in Wisconsin began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has asked an appeals court to stop such marriages while he appeals Crabb’s decision.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Wisconsin ultimately on behalf of eight same-sex couples. It argued the state ban on same-sex marriage violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.

In a June 9 statement, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, public policy arm of the state’s bishops, said that with an appeal to be filed with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Crabb’s ruling “is not the last word on the subject.”

“Whatever the outcome of this case, our public conversation over the definition of marriage will continue,” it said, adding that the bishops encouraged Catholics “to witness their support for this unique relationship.”

“If married, they can do this by living out their own marriage vows. If not married, they can support others who have made a marriage commitment,” the statement said.

At the same time, they urge Catholics “to witness as well to our belief in the dignity of all people by engaging in civil discourse on this sensitive topic. We are true to our values when we recognize the good faith and humanity of all people, whether or not they share our views.”

Crabb and the court have “shaken one of the most precious and essential building blocks of our civilization,” Bishop Morlino said in his statement.

First, he said, “it bears repeating that, we must respect, love, and care for every individual we encounter, regardless of who they are, where they come from, or how they define themselves. This will never change. It is at the core of who we are as members of Christ’s church.”

Christ’s love and mercy “can heal all divisions that separate us,” he added. “However, we must acknowledge the divisions that exist – notably those we choose through our actions.”

The Catholic Church teaches that sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman is sinful.

Bishop Morlino said he was “deeply saddened “ by Crabb’s ruling. 

“I will continue to speak strongly about the truth and beauty of marriage and encourage my brother priests and deacons, and all the lay faithful, to do the same, “ he said.

Marriage between “one man and one woman with openness to children, is an element of the very first ‘domino’ of civilization,” Bishop Morlino said.

“When that first ‘domino’ falls, everything that is good, true, and beautiful, which is rooted on the natural family, is seriously threatened, “ he said.

With Wisconsin, same-sex marriage is now legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Other courts’ decisions have been stayed, pending appeals.

In mid-May, Oregon became the 18th state to allow same-sex marriage after a federal judge there repealed that state’s constitutional marriage amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The Oregon Catholic Conference called it  “a travesty of justice that marriage, as the foundation of society, received no defense in the U.S. District Court. “

– Tracy Rusch contributed to this story.