Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver called the Colorado legislature's passage of a civil unions bill a "regrettable move" harming families, children, and religious freedom.

"Today our state and federal Constitutions have been dealt a troubling blow," he said March 12.

"Marriage is a stabilizing institution at the foundation of civil society. Religious liberty is a civil rights issue. Today both have been grievously harmed."

The Colorado House approved the bill which would allow same-sex couples to form civil unions by a 39-26 vote in which the Democrats were joined by two Republicans to support the bill.

The bill had previously been approved by the state Senate, and now heads to the desk of Democratic governor John Hickenlooper. He has said he plans to sign it into law, and the ceremony is expected to take place this month.

Archbishop Aquila called the bill "the beginning of an effort to redefine the family in Colorado and to undermine the right of all children to have a mother and a father."

"Civil unions are not about equality, tolerance or fairness. They create an alternate reality in which all institutions can be self-defined. Make no mistake: Civil unions are the first step to redefining marriage and to radically redefining the concept of civil rights."

He said that civil rights, properly understood, are matters of "protecting individuals and institutions from tyranny or oppression," rather than "providing legal endorsement to all conceivable social arrangements and constructs."

The archbishop said that while the Church recognizes and affirms the dignity of every human person, it does not follow from this that all relationships are equal.

"Marriage is a unique social relationship between a man and a woman which exists for the good of children and as the foundation of all human communities. Marriage has been uniquely protected in law for millennia in order to preserve and promote the foundations of all social stability."

He said the bill is "particularly troubling" because it fails to include a religious liberty provision which would ensure that adoption agencies would not be required to place children with same-sex or unmarried couples.

"The ability for religious-based institutions to provide foster care and adoption services for Colorado's children is now dangerously imperiled," noted Archbishop Aquila.

Republican efforts to include religious liberty exemptions were defeated, and the bill's senate sponsor, Pat Steadman, said his response to those concerned for religious freedom was, "Get thee to a nunnery and live there then. Go live a monastic life away from modern society, away from the people you can't see as equal to yourself."

The archbishop called these comments "woefully antagonistic to Catholics, to Christians and to all people of faith and good will."

The previous year's version of the bill had included a provision for religious liberty, but was defeated by the then-Republican controlled legislature.

Archbishop Aquila said that "marriage is a stabilizing institution at the foundation of civil society. Religious liberty is a civil rights issue."

"Today both have been grievously harmed," he concluded.