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David Quinn: We'll pay a heavy price for allowing same-sex unions

This could go down as the week when the Catholic Church began to fight back. On Wednesday, two remarkable things happened. First, and despite the scandals, the bishops decided that they had to say something about the Civil Partnership Bill.

Second, Bishop Christopher Jones attacked the media for singling out the Church as though priests are responsible for the majority of child abuse in this country, when according to the one reputable study done in this area (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report, 2002) they are responsible for 3pc.

That is 3pc too much, of course, but given the preponderance of coverage given by the media to clerical sex abuse you would think the ratios were reversed, and that priests were responsible for 97pc of abuse while the rest of society was responsible for the remaining 3pc.

In addition, some day the media are going to have to acknowledge that the Catholic Church today has arguably the most robust set of child-protection procedures in the country -- almost certainly better than the State's procedures. Fairness demands this.

But the fact that the bishops have declared themselves so strongly and so well against the Civil Partnership Bill is also very significant. The easy thing would have been to say and do nothing, to tell themselves that the scandals make it impossible for them to speak out for fear of the inevitable backlash.

On the other hand, how could the present atmosphere be any worse? For crying out loud, we have singers offering to 'help Jesus burn down the Vatican'. Thermonuclear war has been declared on the Church by its critics. If it's going to go down, it may as well go down with its flags flying at full mast.

Despite the protestations of the gay lobby, the Civil Partnership Bill creates de facto marriage for same-sex couples. The media will call civil partners 'husbands'. That is guaranteed.

In this column I've gone through the substantive arguments against the Bill before. I don't intend to go through those arguments again here.

Instead the implications of this Bill for freedom of conscience and religion need some examination because this Bill is arguably the most serious attack on freedom of conscience and religion ever seen by this country, with the possible exception of the Equal Status Act.

The bishops describe the Bill as "an extraordinary and far-reaching attack on freedom of conscience and the free practice of religion which is guaranteed to every citizen".

How does it do this? Here's how. For one thing, a parish will be required by law to rent out its hall to a same-sex couple if they want to use it to hold their reception there following a civil-union ceremony.

The ethos of the parish won't matter a jot. No distinction will be made between an ethos-neutral activity such as letting out a church hall to a scout troop and one that violates ethos.

Everyone knows that the Catholic Church believes in traditional marriage, as do Muslims, and traditional-minded Jews and Protestants. But for holding to this belief, and by refusing to facilitate a same-sex civil partnership ceremony and any attendant events, Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc will be breaking the law.

They will be found guilty of discrimination. They will be put in the same boat as people who refuse to facilitate inter-racial marriage. That is, they will be treated as the exact functional equivalent of racists for believing in traditional marriage.

But the Catholic Church never opposed inter-racial marriage because inter-racial marriage doesn't change the definition of marriage, unlike same-sex marriage and its near equivalent.

So you see where we are? The Government has told us that this Bill will affect only the few hundred same-sex couples who will choose to avail of it. In fact, it will treat belief in traditional marriage as a form of prejudice, to be outlawed under certain circumstances. This has already happened in Britain, in Spain and in parts of America. It is an extremely far-reaching, indeed grotesque, development.

Many Protestants realise this as well which is why, on Monday, a high-ranking Church of Ireland delegation met officials from the Department of Justice to discuss the implications of this Bill for freedom of conscience, proving it is not simply a Catholic issue. Far from it.

So far, the Government is refusing to concede an inch. Quite falsely and absurdly it is raising fears of 'unintended consequences' such as a fundamentalist garda refusing to serve a safety order because he believes husbands have a right to beat their wives.

The Government ought to know this is perfectly absurd, and it must know that it could easily craft a narrowly targeted conscience clause that deals with these supposed unintended consequences.

It should also know that over time, more and more Christians are going to discover that through this Bill the Government will equate their belief in traditional marriage with racism. Sooner or later it will pay a price for this because it will not be forgotten.


Irish Independent