The other day in the Seanad, Senator John Hanafin called for a referendum on the family. Rightly, he believes that the Civil Partnership Bill, soon to become law, represents such a major change to family policy that it should be put to the people instead of rammed through the Oireachtas without any proper debate.
This law will greatly undermine the special status accorded to marriage. Marriage gains its special status by receiving special treatment in the form of rights and benefits unique to it.
Why is it treated uniquely? Because it is unique. Out of all the myriad forms of relationships that people can form, only it can provide a child with a mother and a father who have made a formal, public commitment to one another.
As study after study has shown, children benefit from this. Like it or not, no other form of the family is as good for children, in general. The facts are politically incorrect.
With the passage of the Civil Partnership Bill, same-sex couples will effectively be given marriage. All they will lack is the name 'marriage' and the right to jointly adopt.
With this move, both the Government and the opposition parties are showing that they have completely lost sight of the purpose of marriage policy. This is clear from other areas of family policy also. It has been years since any government has introduced a measure intended to promote marriage.
The fact is, our political system no longer seems to see any special value in marriage. It appears to no longer attach any special value to a child having a married mother and father. That is awful social policy.
But the Civil Partnership Bill will have another effect that is also extremely damaging.
It is a direct attack on freedom of conscience and religion and it potentially penalises everyone and anyone who believes in traditional marriage and traditional sexual morality.
This it does by treating opposition to same-sex civil partnerships as a form of prejudice to be punished by law under certain circumstances. What are those circumstances?
Take, for example, a civil registrar. Suppose that a given registrar is a devout Christian (or Jew, or Buddhist, or Hindu or Muslim) and is asked to officiate at a civil partnership ceremony but refuses on grounds of religious belief.
That registrar will face the sack, plus a fine of up to €2,000, plus imprisonment of up to six months if the State feels vindictive enough towards this person.
Or take a private citizen who runs a photography business. That photographer might also be a devout and traditional-minded religious believer who is asked to photograph the ceremony but refuses to do so on grounds of conscience.
This person won't face imprisonment (not yet anyway), but they can and will be fined for discrimination.
In addition, a parish that won't rent out its hall to a same-sex couple for their reception will also be breaking the law and will also be subject to a fine.
In the US, Britain and elsewhere, Christians are already being fined and prosecuted for their belief in traditional marriage.
Belief in marriage, which is grounded in solid evidence, is being treated as a form of irrationality and prejudice, like racism. Indeed, in this country it is already possible to face sanction for believing in traditional marriage.
A Galway fertility doctor was recently hauled before the Fitness to Practise Committee of the Medical Council on a professional misconduct charge because he offers his service only to married couples and won't extend it to co-habiting couples. He was acquitted only on a technicality and was widely condemned on radio programmes for his stance.
Both the Government and the main opposition parties have come up with the nonsensical argument that if an allowance is made for conscientious objection, next thing you know a 'fundamentalist Christian' garda officer could refuse to serve a safety order because he believes a husband has the right to beat his wife.
But these supposed unintended consequences can easily be taken care of with a carefully written amendment, such as the one given to Dermot Ahern a few weeks ago by a Church of Ireland delegation led by two bishops. Evidently their suggestion was thrown straight in the bin.
The Government and the opposition believe that once this bill is passed it will be quickly forgotten by an electorate that isn't very interested anyway. But by refusing to insert a conscience clause they have in fact inserted a ticking time-bomb.
As more and more 'anti-discrimination' cases are taken against Christians in the coming years, such as the one against the doctor in Galway, and as more and more religious believers are placed on the wrong side of the law by an ever more ferocious, state-imposed secularism, more and more people are going to wake up to what is happening.
The Civil Partnership Bill treats Christians as bigots by refusing to recognise their legitimate conscience rights.
Sooner or later that message is going to get through and the issue will become a running sore in Irish politics.