The controversial Irish Civil Partnership Bill has passed its committee stage and could become law before October.
Churchgoers are concerned about the Bill, which contains a prison sentence of up to six months and/or a fine of up to €2,000 for those who fall foul of it.
In a move which has been described as “ridiculous and unfair”, no conscience clause will be allowed in the Bill.
Last week the Bill passed through the Irish Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights.
After completing its remaining two stages in the Dáil, the legislation will need to be considered by the Irish Seanad before going to the President for signature.
The Irish Daily Mail slammed the legislation, saying: “To formally recognise a same-sex relationship is completely at odds with the sincerely held beliefs of many Christians – and, indeed, followers of other faiths”.
“Surely it is not unreasonable to have an opt-out clause for such people?
“Threatening them with jail is using a large hammer to crack a very small nut”, it continued.
Dismissing the concerns about the lack of a conscience clause, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said that public servants couldn’t be allowed “to opt out on an ‘a la carte’ basis as they see fit themselves”.
Charles Flanagan, justice spokesman for opposition party Fine Gael, said a conscience clause in the Bill would cause other laws to unravel.
Last month a group of 19 church leaders wrote to The Irish Times expressing their deep concerns at the plans.
The leaders from across Ireland, including Pastor Paudge Mulvihill, called the Bill a “direct attack” on freedom of conscience and religion.
Also in May commentator David Quinn, writing in the Irish Independent, said the law would “greatly undermine the special status accorded to marriage”.
The Bill would grant welfare and tax benefits on a par with marriage to homosexual couples who enter a civil partnership.
It also contains new rights for cohabiting couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual.
In March Roman Catholic bishops blasted the Civil Partnership Bill, calling it an “extraordinary” attack on freedom of conscience and religion.
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”.