The country's two most senior bishops have sought to reposition the Catholic Church's place in the gay marriage debate following a controversial outburst by Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran.
Archbishops Eamon Martin and Diarmuid Martin invited members of the media to Maynooth yesterday to outline their "sincerely-held views" on marriage. They said the bishops "respect the views of people who think differently to us" and they asked that their views on marriage would also be heard and respected.
They expressed concerns that if there was a 'Yes' vote in the gay marriage referendum on May 22, that "it will become increasingly difficult to speak any longer in public about marriage as being between a man and a woman".
They asked what the church would be expected to teach children in school about marriage and they also questioned if people would be "forced to act against their conscience".
Urging voters to reflect before they redefine marriage, the bishops said the Children and Family Relationships Bill already proposed to remove mention of mothers and fathers from a whole raft of previous legislation.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin underlined that the two archbishops were president and vice-president of the Irish Bishops Conference and were therefore speaking on behalf of the Irish bishops. Asked about Bishop Doran's comment on Newstalk earlier this week that gay couples with children were "not parents", he responded, "I believe certain types of language are inappropriate." He described Bishop Doran's comment as "an unfortunate phrase". The Archbishop of Dublin said: "I hope that people were not offended by it. We have used the term parenthood... We talk about adoptive parents, we talk about lone parents. There are very many, many definitions...We shouldn't use phrases that may offend people."
He said the bishops were asking people to think about what happens when you start changing definitions of the family - "it is serious matter", he warned.
"Are there ways in which the civil rights of gay and lesbian people can be respected without touching the definition of marriage?" he asked, and said civil partnerships were one way.
Archbishop Eamon Martin said Pope Francis had been absolutely clear that he did not see the marriage of two men or two women as being the same as marriage between a husband and wife, which is open to procreation.
Questioned as to whether people are born gay, the Archbishop of Armagh replied: "I believe people are born the way they are born - God creates us as we are. He loves us as we are. I wouldn't like to try to define somebody, particularly at birth, in terms of sexual orientation."
Meanwhile, Health Minister Leo Varadkar delivered an impassioned speech in favour of the same-sex marriage referendum in the Dáil last night.
Mr Varadkar, who previously said that, as a gay man, the status quo makes him an unequal citizen, said the bill "will benefit all of society in the long run".
"This is not a bill about 'gay marriage', it is about 'equal marriage'. It is not about weakening one of the strongest institutions in society, it is about strengthening it by making it inclusive and for everyone," he said.
He said he recognised that there were good and honourable people in the country who are unsure about marriage equality. "They are not prejudiced. They just have concerns," he said.