Hagatna, Guam — Guam's archbishop said a judge's June 5 decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the U.S. territory was "a defeat" not only "for Christian principles" but "for our island and the whole of humanity."
"The recognition of a same-sex union, as marriage, destroys the basic fabric of society, and will destroy human beings in the process," Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron of Agana said in a statement.
He was reacting to a ruling by federal Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood that struck down the island territory's ban, saying it was unconstitutional. Under her order, Guam becomes the first U.S. territory to legalize same-sex marriage.
On Tuesday, Deasia Johnson of Killeen, Texas, and Nikki Dismuke of New Orleans were the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Guam. Both are members of the military. Public Health Director James Gillan officiated at their wedding.
The couple who filed the lawsuit over Guam's same-sex marriage ban that led to Tydingco-Gatewood's ruling, Loretta Pangelinan and Kathleen Aguero, were the first couple to get a marriage license once the ban was overturned. Johnson and Dismuke were in line first for a license but stepped aside to let Pangelinan and Aguero be No. 1.
Now the Catholic church more than ever "has the task to evangelize even our culture, a culture that has been hit by this tsunami of secularization," said Apuron, who noted that news of the judge's decision "brought me tremendous sadness."
According to The Associated Press, the couple who sued based their case on an opinion from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has approved same-sex marriage in several western U.S. states, and Guam falls under that court's jurisdiction.
"Marriage is and will always be a union between two persons of the opposite sex," Apuron said in his statement. "This union of man and woman must be protected by our government, not destroyed."
He reiterated remarks he has made before that "Guam has the right to regulate the civil effect of the marriage contract. However, it does not have the right to define marriage itself.
"Why? Because marriage and family, which are the basis of any society is pre-political, and marriage existed before our government -- before Guam existed," he said.
Apuron called the government's claim it has a right to acknowledge same-sex relationships "is the first step in collapsing the vital distinction between the state and society."
"This is the road to a totalitarian system. Why? Because now we will see that the state -- the government -- will require and demand that the church accept its redefinition of marriage, by way of anti-discrimination laws," he stated.
The Catholic church upholds the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman and says that any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful. The church also teaches that homosexual attraction itself is not sinful and that homosexual people "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity."
Currently 36 states, the District of Columbia and now Guam have legalized same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in late June on whether all 50 states must allow such marriages. The status of same-sex marriage in a 37th state, Alabama, remains unclear because of conflicting state and federal rulings.
Apuron in his statement said he believes same-sex marriage will harm "our children."
"Family laws have always searched for the good of the children; the question was always what is the best for the children," he said.
"The battle is not over; there is not yet the definitive word," the archbishop said. "For me, many words will still be said about this issue. This is still a controversial and complicated issue for our contemporary culture."
He urged all Guam Catholics, including politicians and legislators, "not to deny their faith, but to have the courage to be a witness to the truth -- the truth about life, about man, about marriage, about family."
The island territory lies about 3,800 miles west of Hawaii. Out of a total population of 160,000 Catholics make up 85 percent of that number. Guam residents are U.S. citizens and are represented in Congress by a delegate.