More than 1,000 Catholic priests in England recently signed an open letter warning that proposed gay marriage legislation could reignite “centuries of persecution” for Roman Catholics.
The proposed legislation would allow churches in England and Wales to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has backed the gay marriage proposal and has pledged to legalize gay marriage by 2015.
The open letter warns that freedom of religion will become “severely” limited, traditional marriage will be upended and Catholics will be discriminated against if the proposal passes. The letter was signed by 1,054 priests, along with more than a dozen “senior Catholic figures,” reports the Telegraph.
“We believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will entail a dilution in the meaning of marriage for everyone by excluding the fundamental complementarity of men and women from the social and legal definition of marriage,” the Church said in a statement obtained by the BBC. The Church also said its opposition is “motivated by a concern for the good of all in society,” according to the BBC.
“After centuries of persecution, Catholics have, in recent times, been able to be members of the professions and participate fully in the life of this country,” reads the letter. “Legislation for same sex marriage, should it be enacted, will have many legal consequences, severely restricting the ability of Catholics to teach the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship.”
Catholics in Britain and Ireland were targets of oppressive regulations until the Catholic Emancipation in 1892, a process that alleviated 16th-century restrictions put in place by the Protestant Reformation. Before the restrictions were relaxed, discriminatory laws had prevented Catholics from purchasing land, holding office in Parliament or practicing their religion without penalties.
The Bishop of Portsmouth, Rt. Rev. Philip Egan, expressed his personal worries to the Telegraph.
“It is quite Orwellian to try to redefine marriage,” he said. “I am very anxious that when we are preaching in Church or teaching in our Catholic Schools or witnessing to the Christian faith of what marriage is that we are not going to be able to do it – that we could be arrested for being bigots or homophobes.”
“Such a thing could even prevent faithful Catholics from certain jobs,” claims a post on Catholic Online, a religious news aggregator and blogging platform. “Other Catholics might have to participate in gay marriages as part of their daily duties, such as signing certificates, for example. Ultimately, the proposed change in law makes no exception for Catholics and others who believe as a matter of faith that such deeds are anathema.”