Berlin, Germany, Jun 30, 2017 / 12:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin expressed his regret Friday at the German parliament’s vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, saying it had abandoned the fundamental characteristics of marriage.

“The fathers of the (German) constitution gave marriage such pride of place because they wanted to protect and strengthen those who, as a mother and father, want to give life to their children.” “I regret the fact that the legislature has given up on essential aspects of the marriage concept in order to make the latter amenable to same-sex partnerships,” he said June 30.

Lawmakers in Germany's parliament voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in the country by changing the definition of marriage in their legal code to include two persons of the same sex.

In a statement reacting to the vote, Archbishop Koch, chairman of the commission for marriage and family of the German bishops' conference, said he also regrets a loss in differentiation between different forms of partnership as a means to “stress the value of same-sex partnerships.”

Regarding different forms of relationship, “differentiation, however, is not discrimination,” he said. “If the protection of relationships and the assumption of shared responsibility is now provided as a justification for the opening of marriage,” he continued, “then this means a substantial rebalancing of content and a dilution of the classic marriage concept.”

He went on to stress that the Church’s understanding of marriage and its sacramental nature have not changed with the law, and that Catholics must continue to present publically the truth and goodness of the reality of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

“As the Catholic Church, we will now increasingly face the challenge of convincingly presenting the vitality of the Catholic understanding of marriage,” he said. “At the same time, I recall that the sacramental character of our marriage understanding remains unaffected by today's decision in the Bundestag.”

The vote passed the lower house of Germany’s parliament 393 to 226, with four abstentions. The vote, which took place in a sudden and somewhat unexpected manner, was added to Friday's agenda by the Social Democratic Party of Germany, the Greens, and The Left.  

German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself voted against the redefinition, pointing to her belief in marriage as being between a man and a woman. However, the chancellor paved the way for the vote to take place with the announcement Monday that she had changed her position on adoption by same-sex couples and would allow deputies of her party, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), a free vote, so they could act according to their “conscience,” she said.

Several of those who voted in favor of the change in definition are members of the Central Committee of German Catholics. The move was opposed by the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, Alternative for Germany (which holds no seats in the Bundestag), and some members of the CDU. The session was the final before parliament's summer recess and the country's national elections in September.

Representatives of the Church in Germany, including the chairman of the German bishops' conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, spoke out against the measure shortly before the vote.

“The German Bishops' Conference emphasizes that marriage, not only from a Christian point of view, is the bond of life and love of woman and man as a principally lifelong connection with the fundamental openness to life.” “We are of the opinion that the State must continue to protect and promote marriage in this form,” they stated.

Since 2001, it has been legal for same-sex couples in Germany to enter into civil unions, although now they will be allowed the legal protections of marriage, including the option to adopt children. From here the legislation goes on to the upper house of Parliament for formal approval. It then requires the signature of President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to go into effect, which will likely take place before the end of 2017.

With this change, Germany joins more than 20 other countries that have legalized gay marriage over the last 16 years, including Ireland and the United States in 2015.