The veto of a religious freedom bill means faith-based groups that support marriage as a union of a man and a woman won’t have needed protections, the state’s Catholic bishops said.

“The Virginia Catholic Conference is deeply dismayed by the governor’s action,” the conference said March 30. “This veto risks the destruction of Virginia’s long tradition of upholding the religious freedom of faith communities which dates back to Thomas Jefferson.”

The bill would have forbidden the state of Virginia from punishing religious groups that follow their sincerely held beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. The bill passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 59-38 and the Senate by 21-19.

Virginia’s Catholic conference said the bill would ensure “that clergy and religious organizations are not penalized by the government.” The bill would also protect these individuals and organizations from civil liability.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, vetoed the bill on live radio Wednesday. He claimed that signing the bill would be “making Virginia unwelcome to same-sex couples, while artificially engendering a sense of fear and persecution among our religious communities.”

He also cited corporation leaders’ opposition to the bill, charging that it was “bad for business.”

“They don't want headaches coming from the state,” he said.

LGBT activist groups also opposed the bill.

The Catholic conference said that the bill does not apply to businesses, but “simply affirms the right of religious organizations to follow their religious beliefs.” The conference charged that Gov. McAuliffe’s veto “marginalizes religious believers who hold to the timeless truth about marriage.”

The legislation would have preserved “fair access to state resources” for clergy and religious organizations, including charities and schools, the conference said.

“Marriage is the first institution, written in natural law and existing before any government or religion, and is between one man and one woman,” the conference added. “Recognizing and honoring this institution is not discrimination, but counting people’s faith against them most certainly is.”

Sen. Charles W. Carrico Sr. (R-Grayson) sponsored the bill. He told the Washington Post he believes there will be lawsuits against churches.

“I think you see a trend around the country right now to promote homosexual beliefs, and I think you see that trend happening on a wide-scale basis,” he said.

The Virginia legislature could override the veto, but that is considered very unlikely, the Associated Press reports.

Other bills to protect religious freedom have drawn significant opposition in recent years. In Georgia on Monday, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed another proposed religious freedom protection bill.

In some states and the District of Columbia, new laws and funding decisions have shut down Catholic adoption agencies on the grounds they do not place children with same-sex couples. Some Catholic schools have also become the targets of lawsuits from employees fired for violating morals standards on sexual morality.

Wealthy funders like the Ford Foundation, the Arcus Foundation and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund have poured millions of dollars into legal groups, law school projects and activist groups to counter religious freedom protections.

Photo credit: Joseph Sohm via