Judges rule to allow same-sex couples to marry in Arizona, Wyoming

Angie Fincher and Darcy Fincher pose for a photo with their children after receiving their marriage license in Arizona on Oct. 17, the day a federal judge in Phoenix said same-sex marriage must be legal in the state. (CNS/Reuters/Deanna Dent)

Phoenix — A U.S. District Court judge's ruling that Arizona's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional "overturns the will of Arizona voters and reflects a misunderstanding of the institution of marriage," the state's Catholic bishops said Friday.

"For centuries, marriage has been recognized as the lifelong union of a man and a woman that benefits the common good by respecting the unique and complementary gifts of both a mother and a father in the lives of children," they said.

"As Catholic bishops, we remain committed to affirming the truth about marriage and its goodness for all of society."

The Catholic bishop of Cheyenne, Wyo., echoed his Arizona counterparts in a statement released late Oct. 17 after a federal judge that afternoon ordered that state to allow same-sex marriage. U.S. District Court Judge Scott W. Skavdahl stayed his decision until Oct. 23 to allow the state to appeal.

"A true understanding of the nature of marriage prohibits any institution, secular or religious, from redefining marriage," said Bishop Paul Etienne. "As church, we will continue to promote the understanding that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, a covenantal relationship instituted by God."

With regard to the Arizona ban, Judge John W. Sedwick on Oct. 16 struck down an amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in 2008 that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman, saying it was unconstitutional because it denied same-sex couples equal protection under the law.

The judge also refused to stay his decision, adding that he felt any appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "would not succeed."

On Oct. 9, Sedwick said he thought an Oct. 7 ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit that struck down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada applied to Arizona, which is in the geographic area covered by the circuit court.

He had given the parties that challenged Arizona's ban and the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization defending the state's law, until Oct. 16 to respond.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne on Oct. 17 said the state will not appeal Sedwick's ruling.

In a letter to the clerk of the court for Maricopa County Superior Court, Horne said the state's courts "can no longer treat marriage exclusively as 'a union of one man and one woman' under state law" and he directed clerks to immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In their statement, Arizona's Catholic bishops reiterated their "pastoral concern for all people, including our brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction, and denounce any unjust discrimination toward anyone."

"It is our fervent hope that the Supreme Court will eventually reconsider the issue of marriage in the future. In the meantime, we pray that the church may continue to serve as a loving and joyful witness of the truth about the family and human sexuality," they said.

Signing the statement were Bishop Thomas Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares of Phoenix; Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson; Byzantine Bishop Gerald Dino of the Holy Protection of Mary Eparchy of Phoenix; and Bishop James Wall of Gallup, N.M., whose diocese includes part Arizona.

In his statement, Etienne retired Catholic teaching that upholds "the dignity and sanctity of every human person. This belief is rooted in our understanding that every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. Every person is deserving of this respect, even those with same-sex attraction."

"The Catholic Church also teaches that marriage is by nature a union of a man and a woman. It is perhaps the single oldest institution of society, and as such, the primary and natural starting point of family life," he said.

"Marriage and the family it generates are unique bonds of love meant for the well-being of each of its members and the common good of society as a whole," he said. "This 'unique bond of love' cannot be replicated in any other fashion. ... We as church will continue to teach this truth in all of its richness and encourage all people to embrace this truth.

"At the same time, we encourage respect for all persons and a respectful dialogue in discussing marriage and family in our culture today," he added.

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