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What is true, we must defend

This op-ed, written by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, first appeared in the Feb. 2 edition of the Virginian Pilot. It is reprinted here with permission.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, while leaving states the authority to define marriage. Virginia's citizens did precisely that when they strongly endorsed a 2006 state constitutional amendment affirming marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

On Jan. 23, less than two weeks after taking the oath of office, Virginia's new attorney general, Mark Herring, turned his back on the expressed wishes of our commonwealth's citizens when he announced he would not defend the constitutional amendment but would instead join the plaintiffs and actively oppose it in pending litigation.

While declining to defend the state constitution without even appointing outside counsel is unusual enough for the state's top attorney, his decision to actively challenge the state's definition of marriage -- a definition he voted for when serving as a state senator -- is shocking and reckless.

Much has been written already about the responsibility attorneys general have to defend state laws, whether they agree with those laws or not. We join many others in calling on Herring to do the job he was elected to perform.

But what is at stake here far surpasses the issue of the attorney general's role and integrity. Most fundamentally, what is at stake is the preservation of the family, the fundamental and foundational unit of society.

Though long-recognized in church and civil law, marriage did not originate in church or state but in nature. Long before nations or organized religions, the institution of marriage existed as the union of one man and one woman.

Marriage has been shown throughout history to be civilization's irreplaceable building block, benefitting children and society at large. No religion, government or individual has the right or legitimate authority to alter the original design of marriage. Likewise, neither the attorney general nor the courts have the authority to impose a new definition of marriage on society.

Hand in hand with the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage is also the church's insistence on avoiding all forms of unjust discrimination.

Every person is created in the image and likeness of God and is deserving of dignity and respect, a reality our Holy Father's actions and words beautifully demonstrate. While declining to judge persons with same-sex attractions, Pope Francis, a self-described "son of the church," has consistently warned against redefining an institution written in natural law.

When his own country, Argentina, debated the issue, he declared, "At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God's law engraved in our hearts."

We echo Pope Francis' message and the timeless teaching of our faith that the institution of marriage is based in the objective, biological reality that men and women are different, yet complementary.

Government recognizes marriage not because it has an interest in affording legal protection to the emotional commitment made between two people. Rather, it recognizes marriage because it has an interest in the union of one man and one woman, whose sexual complementarity is ordered toward the procreation of children.

Decades of research demonstrate that children do best when raised by a mother and a father, affirming that mothers and fathers are not interchangeable or irrelevant to children's well-being. Redefining marriage beyond the union between a man and a woman renders it a meaningless institution focused on the emotional satisfaction of adults, rather than children's needs and rights.

Out of concern for the needs and rights of children, and because we cannot violate our conscience by doing otherwise, we will continue to defend marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Virginians approved the constitutional marriage amendment by a significant margin because they understood the unique benefit this institution provides individual families and society; the commonwealth should preserve this original design.

We call upon the attorney general to honor the oath he took, as we call upon all Virginians to defend marriage.

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