MADISON, Wis. — 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," said Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison.

"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.

Bishop Morlino made the comments in response to a late June 6 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb, who declared as unconstitutional a 2006 amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution that outlawed same-sex marriage.

Almost immediately county clerk offices in Wisconsin began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Crabb was to decide later whether she would stay her decision while an appeal moved through the courts.

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.

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, 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."

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."

On June 4, the U.S. Supreme Court June 4 rejected a bid by the National Organization for Marriage urging it stay the Oregon ruling while an appeal is underway. Earlier the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant a stay.

The May 19 ruling allowing same-sex marriage and its consequences "will have a profound effect on all of us," said Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Ore.

"From the beginning, our efforts to prevent this from happening were never about demeaning or attacking the dignity of persons who happen to be homosexual," he wrote in his column for the Catholic Sentinel, the archdiocesan newspaper. "Their dignity as human persons must never be called into question or denied.

"This has always been about upholding and protecting the unique institution in our society that we call marriage."

He continued: "Let us be clear. We all know people who identify themselves as gay or lesbian. They are our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and members of our own families. We love and cherish them."

Archbishop Sample said the Catholic Church is "deeply aware" of the complexity and sensitivity of the same-sex marriage issue.

"In no way do we wish to add to any existing discrimination against those who identify as gay or lesbian," he said. "The Catholic Church fully teaches that all human persons, including those who are gay, are sacred, valued, have an innate dignity, and are loved by God.

"We believe that all people should be treated with love, dignity and respect, regardless of what they think, how they act, or who they are. We welcome those who are attracted to people of the same sex into our churches and into our hearts."

Church teaching on "the true nature of marriage" -- being between one man and one woman -- is "no castigation of people who are gay. We simply believe that two people of the same sex are unable to marry."

The church recognizes that "gay people can experience deep friendships, commitment, loyalty, generosity, and love just like anyone else," but "men and women were made for each other by God in a unique and complementary way. ... The future of humanity passes through the union between one man and one woman."

"Two people of the same gender cannot reproduce this unique union between a man and a woman who can become one flesh and have their own children," Archbishop Sample said.

Catholic teaching is "not meant to engender attitudes of disrespect or hostility, and perhaps we don't always do the best job of stating them," he said.

"The Catholic Church is not interested in numbers in the pews or money in the collection basket, but only in bringing people to Jesus, serving the poor, reaching out to the lost and the broken, and in helping lead all to eternal salvation in Christ," the archbishop said. "Where we are failing in these areas, we need to change, but we cannot change Christ's call to be faithful to the truth of the Gospel."

"Further dialogue is needed to ensure that each individual's civil rights are being upheld," he added.