Britain’s Catholic priests in protest at gay marriage law: the time for action has come

Design-5Over the Channel in France, up to a million are expected today to take to the streets of Paris in protest at redefining marriage. Yesterday, in the UK, more than a thousand Catholic priests signed a letter in the Telegraph warning that a passage of a similar law will lead to a hounding and marginalisation of Catholics not seen since the Reformation.  The letter, one of the biggest joint letters ever written, is signed by 1,054 priests, as well as 13 bishops, abbots and other senior clergy (see Telegraph story here) — that’s about a third of the total Catholic clergy in England and Wales.

The letter reads:

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.

Some points:

1) The letter took was organised (by the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy) in a matter of weeks; most priests didn’t get the chance to sign. With more time there would have been many more signatures. This was a grassroots initiative, not organised by the bishops’ conference. The signatories are impossible to classify as representing a particular “view” (traditional, liberal, etc.) but speak for Catholic clergy generally.

2) The fears they raise reflect mainstream legal opinion that bodies in receipt of public money or which offer a public service will be vulnerable to anti-discrimination lawsuits if, following an “equal marriage” law, they disagree that a same-sex marriage is “equal” to a marriage between a man and a woman; and because UK law can be challenged, overturned or revised (by future administrations or appeals to Strasbourg) government attempts to reassure the Churches otherwise are simply not credible.

3) The consequence of this will be to marginalise faith from public life, reducing it to a private activity outside the law.

Catholics are being asked to write to their MPs. There is little time now to waste: the Bill is expected to come before Parliament on 28 January. Find out how to contact your MP here. For arguments, please see (a) our briefing paper here; (b) the Campaign For Marriage resources page here;  and (c) the Catholic bishops of England and Wales response to the government consultation here.

Please note the Archbishops’ call before Christmas:

Statement by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Peter Smith on the government response to the same sex marriage consultation, 11th December 2012

The meaning of marriage matters. It derives that meaning from its function as the foundation of the family. The union of one man and one woman for love and mutual support and open to procreation has over the centuries formed a stable unit we call the family. Marriage is the enduring public recognition of this commitment and has been rightly recognised as unique and worthy of legal protection.

The government has chosen to ignore the views of over 600,000 people who signed a petition calling for the current definition of marriage to stay, and we are told legislation to change the definition of marriage will now come to Parliament.

We strongly oppose such a Bill. Furthermore, the process by which this has happened can only be described as shambolic. There was no electoral mandate in any manifesto; no mention in the Queen’s speech; no serious or thorough consultation through a Green or White paper, and a constant shifting of policy before even the government response to the consultation was published today.

We urge everyone who cares about upholding the meaning of marriage in civil law to make their views known to their MPs clearly, calmly and forcefully, and without impugning the motives of others. We urge all parties to ensure their Members have a free vote. It is not too late to stop this Bill.

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