Saturday, February 09, 2013

Same-sex marriage will put Catholics under ‘intolerable moral pressures’, says bishop

Bishop Philip Egan (Photo: Mazur)The legalisation of gay marriage will place Catholic professionals under “intolerable moral pressures”, the Bishop of Portsmouth has said.

Following the vote on Tuesday night, where a majority of 225 MPs voted in favour of the Government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, Bishop Philip Egan said: “Just as the Church has been forced to abandon its adoption services, so too Catholics who work in the medical profession and in social services are going to find themselves under intolerable moral pressures. These pressures will also arguably be felt throughout our Catholic schools, by teachers, staff and parents.”

The bishop expressed his disappointment at the “Orwellian manner” in which Parliament had approached the issue of gay marriage. He said: “It is now clear that the Catholic view of Matrimony will in future differ markedly from what society will call marriage. One possible consequence of this is that the Church will be forced to withdraw from the civil registration of marriages.”

On behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Archbishop Peter Smith said that debate was not about equality as proponents of the Bill argued.

He said: “The Church opposes the Government’s Bill to re-define marriage. Despite claims by supporters of the Bill that the central issue is one of equality, the Bill actually seeks to re-define marriage and will have consequences for society at large.”

He continued: “It became clear during today’s debate in the House of Commons that the government has not thought through a number of profound problems in the Bill raised by members of Parliament during the debate. It will be extremely important that the many concerns we and others have expressed will be fully and carefully considered during the next stages of the Bill’s passage through Parliament.”

Among the MPs who supported the bill were Catholic parliamentarians including Iain Duncan Smith and Daniel Kawczynski.

Catholic MPs who opposed the bill included Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough, former minister Sarah Teather, MP for Brent Central, and Jim Dobbin, MP for Heywood and Middleton and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group.

Sarah Teather was one of only four Liberal Democrats who voted against the bill. Following the vote, the former Coalition minister said: “I have found this a difficult decision because of my work previously on gay rights issues, and my judgment is finely balanced. I recognise that others may reflect deeply on these issues and come to a different view, in good faith.
“But it is my view that where the extra protections offered to same-sex couples are marginal, and where the potential negatives to society over a period of time may be more considerable, I am unable to support the Bill.”

David Cameron did not contribute to the debate on gay marriage but voted in favour of the bill when the vote was called.

The Prime Minister said that the vote was an “important step forward”, and Ed Miliband, Leader of the Opposition, described it as a “proud day”.

Bishop Egan’s warnings about the Bill’s implications for religious liberty follow suggestions that Michael Gove, Education Secretary, is secretly concerned about the legislation’s impact on Catholic schools.

Although publicly Mr Gove has insisted that he has full confidence in the legislation and the “quadruple lock” which will ensure churches are not forced to conduct same-sex ceremonies, other sources suggest that the Secretary of State holds private reservations.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live this week, Geoffrey Vero, Mr Gove’s constituency chair, said: “Although Michael says in the Mail today that he has total confidence in the legislation, well that’s not what he told me only a week ago when I met him in Parliament.”

He later continued: “When we discussed the matter there is no doubt that any legislation we pass in Parliament may well be overturned by the European courts and therefore we don’t have total confidence in that. And also, as regards the church, that although they talk about the quadruple lock, we don’t have total confidence that that is going to stand the test of time.”

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