More than 1,000 Catholic priests have signed an open letter warning that legal acceptance of same-sex marriage could cause a return to the sort of persecution of Catholics that scarred Britain for centuries. Signed by almost one-fourth of the country’s Catholic priests, joined by bishops and other Church leaders, the letter called for opposition to the British government’s plan to recognize same-sex marriages. They warned that the effects of the legislation would include “severely restricting the ability of Catholics to teach the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship.” Protests, marches and acts of civil disobedience on the part of Catholic clergy, laity, and others are planned.
Other churches are apparently also alarmed. Legal advice reportedly sent to Prime Minister David Cameron warned that Christian churches in general could be sued under human rights legislation if they refuse to allow homosexual marriage services to proceed. Exemptions granted to the Church of England by to prevent it having to conduct gay marriages is “eminently challenge-able” in the European Court of Human Right, according to the advice written by Aidan O'Neill - a leading human rights lawyer at the center-left Matrix Chambers. O'Neill's advice warns that the British government's insistence that protections put in place for other religious groups who don't want to marry homosexuals could be undermined by evolving European human rights law. O'Neill argues that churches that refuse to marry homosexuals would be banned from using government facilities such as village halls. The advice was contained in a letter sent by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Prime Minister, the Daily Mail reported.
The open letter from Catholic clergy reminded Britons that had been barred from public office for centuries. Critics of the legislation say that the plans could be compared to the persecution that began under King Henry VIII in the 1500s. Reassurances offered by Prime Minister Cameron are “meaningless” if Catholics were required to assent to same-sex unions. Roman Catholic Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said that the comparison to Henry VIII is “dramatic,” but averred that such urgent concern is warranted. “It is quite Orwellian to try to redefine marriage,” he said.
Father Andrew Pinsent, a theologian, said that the priests’ fears are based on precedent and on the recognition “that a network of laws are being put in place which would violate our freedom of conscience.” Pinsent said that the most prominent Catholic leaders of the UK, the so-called "Westminster bubble”, have “underestimated the level of concern in the country” over the proposed change to the definition of marriage.
Opponents of same-sex marriage fear that if the UK parliament passes the gay marriage bill, hospital, prison and army chaplains coul face challenges if they preach on marriage being between a man and a woman. Until 1829 Catholics and other religious dissenters in Britain and Ireland were barred from entering many professions or, in many cases, even meeting to worship under a body of restrictions collectively known as the Penal Laws.
The priests write: “After centuries of persecution, Catholics have, in recent times, been able to be members of the professions and participate fully in the life of this country. Legislation for same sex marriage, should it be enacted, will have many legal consequences, severely restricting the ability of Catholics to teach the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship."
Here follows the text of the letter sent to the London Telegraph.
SIR – After centuries of persecution, Catholics have, in recent times, been able to be members of the professions and participate fully in the life of this country.
Legislation for same-sex marriage, should it be enacted, will have many legal consequences, severely restricting the ability of Catholics to teach the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship.
It is meaningless to argue that Catholics and others may still teach their beliefs about marriage in schools and other arenas if they are also expected to uphold the opposite view at the same time.
The natural complementarity between a man and a woman leads to marriage, seen as a lifelong partnership. This loving union – because of their physical complementarity – is open to bringing forth and nurturing children.
This is what marriage is. That is why marriage is only possible between a man and a woman. Marriage, and the home, children and family life it generates, is the foundation and basic building block of our society.
We urge Members of Parliament not to be afraid to reject this legislation now that its consequences are more clear.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.