The Institution of Marriage and the Common Good, Part 2

[This is a Pastoral Letter of the Virginia Catholic Bishops. Due to its length, it is in two parts. The first part ran on Monday, October 2, 2006. Part One is available here.]

These unique contributions to society show us why upholding the marital union of man and woman as a public institution, in a way that clearly distinguishes it from any other relationship, is necessary for the common good. Because governments and citizens have a compelling interest in supporting and promoting the best and most stable social structure for the well-being of families, no other relationship should be accorded a legal status equivalent to that of marriage. Those who would give non-marital unions the privileges and status enjoyed by husbands and wives contradict and devalue what is truly good for society. Put another way, marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman is not one "model" among many options of equal public significance. Rather, it is the very building block of the family and of society. Civil laws make a just and necessary distinction when they recognize the unique role the institution of marriage has in society, rather than reducing this institution to nothing more than one of many alternative kinds of voluntary relationships.

As citizens and voters, then, we face important questions: Will we affirm God's definition of marriage, or will we leave the door open for others to rewrite it whenever they see fit? Is the marital union " between a man and a woman who give themselves completely to each other " a unique bond that forms the basis of the family and society, or is it no different than any other voluntary relationship? Considering these questions within the context of important political decisions, and thereby helping to promote the common good of our communities, is an essential part of what it means to be a follower of Christ in our Commonwealth today.

In light of assertions made by some who oppose the proposed marriage-protection amendment, we also wish to remind the faithful in our dioceses of the duty to analyze campaign rhetoric honestly and critically, and to avoid using erroneous claims as a pretext for disregarding Church teaching or encouraging others to do so. Factual information about what the proposed amendment would and would not do is available in a detailed question-and-answer piece prepared by the Virginia Catholic Conference and posted on its website ( The piece notes, for example, that although opponents have said the amendment would interfere with certain property and end-of-life decisions made by unmarried individuals, those claims are squarely at odds with the official explanation of the ballot question that is available to all voters from the Virginia State Board of Elections. We encourage you to read the Conference's material as you prepare to cast your vote on this important question.

Preserving and promoting marriage is an integral component of our shared civic responsibility. As Pope John Paul II wrote, "The future of humanity passes by way of the family. It is therefore indispensable and urgent that every person of good will should endeavor to save and foster the values and requirements of the family" (Familiaris Consortio, no. 86). In the Catholic liturgy, one of the nuptial blessings speaks of married life as "the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin or washed away in the flood." If God Himself values the institution of marriage so highly, can we do any less?

Faithfully in Christ,

Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde

Bishop of Arlington

Most Reverend Francis X. DiLorenzo

Bishop of Richmond

Bishop Paul S. Loverde


Bp. Paul S. Loverde is the bishop of the Diocese of Arlington in Virginia.

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