Pope Francis’ statement that the Catholic Church cannot bless “sinful same-sex unions” is a continuation of the long-held and misguided belief that same-sex unions are inherently sinful, the leader of an LGBT-affirming global denomination said.

Rev. Cecilia Eggleston, the moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), said the Vatican’s statement fails to recognize the legitimacy, love and permanence of same-sex unions and is anathema to Christian tenets of “loving thy neighbor.”

The UFMCC and its Global Justice Institute have released a statement on the sanctity of same-sex unions which reads, in part:

“Although there has been progress around the world in protecting rights of persons to marry, to adopt children and to gain access to health care regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, those refusing to recognize these legal protections, including appointed and elected civil servants, have asserted that they are exercising their ‘religious freedom’ in this refusal. In direct response to this assertion, the Council of Elders of the Metropolitan Community Churches affirms its religious freedom, and spiritual practice of, performing marriages of people of all genders, and supporting the right to adopt and access to health care, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“This is part of our church's doctrine, core values and the religious freedom of both clergy and those choosing to get married,” Eggleston said. “The Vatican’s statement yesterday only further wounds those who have been marginalized by possibly well-meaning but misinformed Christians. Our denomination welcomes all people, knowing that God created us uniquely and as we are. Those who have been alienated by such doctrines as this can find a home with us in any of our churches around the world.”

“UFMCC has been on the front lines of fighting for marriage equality since the late 1960s,” said Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt, director of Eastern European affairs for the Fellowship’s Global Justice Institute. “The Vatican’s statement saddens me, but only reinforces the need for our mission to advocate for equality and justice for all people around the world.”