Ireland’s Civil Partnership Bill is an “extraordinary” attack on freedom of conscience and religion, Irish Roman Catholic bishops have said.
Speaking at a press conference three Irish bishops said the Bill “represents a fundamental revolution in our understanding of marriage and the family and cannot go unchallenged”.
The Irish Civil Partnership Bill goes even further than UK legislation as it lays out fines and a potential prison sentence for registrars who refuse to carry out same-sex civil partnerships.
It would grant welfare and tax benefits on a par with marriage to homosexual couples who enter a civil partnership.
The Bill also contains new rights for cohabiting couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual.
Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop Denis Brennan and Bishop Christopher Jones said they were “very concerned” about the Bill becoming law.
Bishop Jones, who is chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Family and Children, said he was worried that the Civil Partnership Bill “is going to undermine marriage by conferring all the rights on same-sex unions as marriage, equating same-sex union to marriage itself”.
They made clear that marriage means the union of a man and woman saying: “Same-sex relationships, by their very nature, cannot be considered equal to marriage or almost equal to marriage.”
The bishops said: “A husband is a man who has a wife: a wife is a woman who has a husband.
“A same-sex couple cannot be husband and wife.”
They also said it was a “grave injustice if the State ignores the unique and proper place of husbands and wives, the place of mothers and fathers, and especially the rights of children, who deserve from society a clear understanding of marriage as they grow to sexual maturity.”
The bishops also warned of the wide ranging effects of prosecution for refusing to carry out same-sex civil partnerships.
“Christians, Jews and Muslims or anyone else who refuses to make halls and other facilities available for a celebration or reception connected with a same-sex partnership will face prosecution and fines,” they said.
The bishops said they were considering taking Constitutional action should the Bill become law.
Last month Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said that Irish registrars would not be given conscience opt-outs on religious grounds for conducting same-sex civil partnerships.
But Seymour Crawford TD, speaking for the opposition, said many religious groups “are genuinely worried about the situation and cannot understand why we cannot allow a level of freedom in this area”.
In December the Evangelical Alliance Ireland controversially said that Christians should support the Civil Partnership Bill.
Evangelical Alliance Ireland is a distinct organisation from evangelical alliances in other countries such as the UK.
Evangelical Alliance Ireland’s General Director, Sean Mullan, claimed in a statement at the time: “The Government is seeking to legislate for greater justice and fairness for co-habiting couples, both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. As Christians we should support that stance.”