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Senior Archbishop warns: Church could face legal action for opposing gay marriage

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has issued a long message to churchgoers tonight.

THE LEADER OF the Catholic Church in Ireland has issued a long message on the issue of same-sex marriage this evening – urging churchgoers to exercise their vote in the May 22 referendum, and to “speak up courageously for the union of a man and a woman in marriage”.

The intervention is the first major contribution to the debate from a senior Church figure since a spokesperson for the Irish Catholic Bishops last month warned that priests may no longer perform the civil part of wedding ceremonies, if marriage is extended to gay couples.

“Until now, Ireland has accepted that it is in the best interests of children and of society to promote and protect the model of children being born and raised in a family with their biological parents,” Archbishop Eamon Martin said, in a statement emailed to news outlets.

“The proposed amendment to the Constitution will remove the unique and privileged status in society for the marriage between a man and a woman.

It is worth noting what Pope Francis has said recently: ‘When the stable and fruitful covenant between a man and a woman is devalued by society, it is a loss for everyone, especially the young’.”

Archbishop in Stormont abortion row Archbishop Eamon Martin Source: Niall Carson

Later, in the lengthy statement, Martin asks whether Catholics who speak out publicly against gay marriage in the future will be met with lawsuits, and questions what children will be taught about marriage, and about homosexuality.

“Some commentators have said that ‘sacramental’ or ‘religious’ marriage is not affected by the proposed amendment.”

He adds that “freedom of religion is linked very closely to freedom of conscience and freedom to express publicly our values and beliefs in daily life”.

“If society adopts and imposes a ‘new orthodoxy’ of ‘gender-neutral’ marriage, being defined simply as a union between any two persons – including a man and a man, or a woman and woman – then it will become increasingly difficult to speak or teach in public about marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Will there be lawsuits against individuals and groups who do not share this vision?  What will we be expected to teach children in school about marriage or about homosexual acts?  Will those who continue to sincerely believe that marriage is between a man and a woman be forced to act against their faith and conscience.

The campaign

Campaigning in the same-sex referendum stepped up a gear in the past week – with a number of high profile debates. And while the Iona Institute-backed Mothers and Fathers Matter has been the most active campaign group opposed to the constitutional change – as the debate continues, the Catholic Church will likely be the most influential voice on the No side.

A number of senior church figures have weighed into the debate recently. Back in March, Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran came in for criticism for saying that gay parents of children were not necessarily parents. Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin later described it as an “unfortunate phrase” and Doran expressed his own regret.

Voters will be asked in the 22 May referendum whether civil marriage rights should be extended to same-sex couples. Churches will retain the right to marry who-ever they wish.

The Children and Family Relationships Bill, which for the first time allows same-sex couples to adopt children together, was enacted last month – and that legislation will remain in place, regardless of the result of the marriage vote.

Speaking earlier this year, during the public debate on those changes – Bishop Doran said the Bill sought to “redefine the meaning of parenthood and, in so doing, seems designed to prejudge the outcome of the forthcoming referendum on the meaning of marriage”.

Read: Monsignor Eamon Martin appointed Coadjutor to Cardinal Brady

Read: This audience member’s reaction was clear … what did everyone else make of the Late Late debate?

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