One of the country's most senior bishops has backed the entitlement of cohabiting couples, including same-sex couples, to have their inheritance and visiting rights safeguarded.
In an address given in Roscommon yesterday evening, the Bishop of Elphin, Dr Kevin Doran, said many same-sex couples who have lived together in a committed relationship for many years have serious concerns about what happens when one of them becomes seriously ill or dies.
He urged the State to ensure that these rights are provided for.
However, in the same address, the bishop reiterated the church's opposition to any proposed redefinition of marriage to include gay marriage, which would move away from an understanding of marriage as between a man and a woman.
The Catholic Church's opposition to same-sex marriage is not about homosexuality or the gay lifestyle, he said.
Bishop Doran said extending civil marriage to include a relationship between people of the same sex would change the meaning of marriage.
"It is not just a case of adding 'another kind of marriage' alongside what we already have," he said in his talk 'Marriage and the Common Good'.
The bishop, who is the most recent addition to the Irish hierarchy, warned that the referendum, if passed, would result in the unique relationship between marriage and procreation disappearing completely from the definition of marriage.
Discussing the meaning of parenthood, he cited Pope Francis's statement that "Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's growth and emotional development."
However, he also sought to reach out to members of the gay community, saying that the Catholic Church "clearly teaches that people who are homosexual must always be treated with respect".
He said the church "condemns without reservation words or actions which are intended to injure, ridicule or undermine homosexual people".
But he ruled out support for gay adoption, stating that in order to replicate as closely as possible the relationship of the natural family, the Catholic Church, along with many others, argues that adoptive parents should always be one man and one woman in a stable, committed relationship.