Catholics have been urged to protect the “true meaning” of matrimony as the Church campaigns against Government plans for gay marriage.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s government will launch a formal consultation later this month on plans to introduce same-sex civil marriages before the next general election in 2015.
One week ago Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, said the plans were “madness”.
A letter co-authored by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and Archbishop Peter Smith, the Archbishop of Southwark, said it was their “duty” to defend the institution of marriage.
The letter was read in 2,500 parish churches during Mass on Sunday, arguing that the change would reduce the significance of marriage.
But a poll in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper showed public support for the proposals, with 45 percent saying they supported the move to legalise gay marriage, and 36 percent opposing it.
“Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now”, the Archbishops said.
“The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage.
“It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children. We have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.”
The letter argues that the roots of marriage lie in human nature and the pattern of “complementarity and fertility” in the union are affirmed by many other religious traditions. It insists that same-sex couples are not unfairly discriminated against under the current law.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman has said in response: “The Government has made clear its commitment to equality. We believe people should have the option of civil marriage, irrespective of sexual orientation.”
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights organisation Stonewall, said: “At a time when 50,000 families in Britain are homeless and a billion people across the world live on less than a dollar a day, it’s extraordinary that Archbishops are worrying about the family arrangements of a few thousand gay people.
“We assume that Roman Catholic congregations will take as much notice of the instruction to marginalise gay people’s relationships as they do of the regular instruction they receive not to use birth control.”
Civil partnerships for same-sex couples were introduced in Britain in December 2005, giving them similar rights to married heterosexual couples. But the partnerships cannot legally be referred to as marriage.
New laws allowing same-sex civil partnership ceremonies to be conducted in places of worship in England and Wales came into force in December, though no religious group is obliged to host them.
Main Image: AFP, Luis Acosta