Christian registrars who refuse to carry out same-sex civil partnerships could be thrown into jail under proposed legislation being considered in Ireland.
A group of 19 church leaders has written to a national newspaper expressing their deep concern at the plans, which they say could also affect owners of B&Bs.
The leaders said the Civil Partnership Bill is a “direct attack” on freedom of conscience and religion.
They said their concerns are based on “sincerely held religious convictions”, and called on Ireland’s Justice Minister to allow for freedom of conscience in the Bill.
The Irish 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.
The leaders from across Ireland, including Pastor Paudge Mulvihill, expressed their worries about the Bill in a letter to The Irish Times.
They called on Justice Minister Dermot Ahern to heed their calls against the Bill and protect freedom of conscience and religion.
In January Mr Ahern said there would be no conscience clause in the Bill.
He was criticised for the move by opposition politician Seymour Crawford who said many religious groups “are genuinely worried about the situation and cannot understand why we cannot allow a level of freedom in this area”.
At the end of last year Evangelical Alliance Ireland controversially backed the Civil Partnership Bill.
Evangelical Alliance Ireland is a distinct organisation from evangelical alliances in other countries such as the UK.
Pastor Mulvihill expressed “profound sadness” at the Alliance’s response to the Bill.
In March a newspaper columnist warned that the Civil Partnership Bill could lead to traditional views on marriage being equated with racism.
David Quinn, writing in the Irish Independent, warned that the Bill if passed “will treat belief in traditional marriage as a form of prejudice, to be outlawed under certain circumstances.”