The Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin has said interfering with the definition of marriage is not 'a simple or a trivial matter.'
In a statement on Saturday evening on the upcoming same-sex marriage referendum, Dr Martin said since time immemorial Church and State had recognised marriage to be of fundamental importance for children, mothers and fathers, and society.
"The teaching of the Catholic Church on the issue of same-sex unions was reiterated at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome, 2014: 'There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family.'"
At the same time, he said, the Church emphasised that gay people ought always to be treated with respect and sensitivity.
He asked how had a situation come to pass that when people stood up to guard the dignity of difference between a man and woman, and speak for the traditional definition of marriage, they were often portrayed as being against freedom, or against equality.
“How is it that many people won’t even raise these issues in their families and workplaces for fear of being ridiculed or condemned as homophobic? Could we not expect at least some of our legislators to engage in public discussion on both sides of this debate?” he asked.
Dr Martin said what made marriage unique among other types of relationships was the distinctiveness of the union between a man and a woman which is open to life.
“To remove this specific difference is not, as some would argue, a development or evolution of our understanding of marriage; it is, rather, a very definite break with human history and with the natural institution of marriage. We end up using the term “marriage” for something that it is not.”
He said many of the arguments being made for the proposed amendment appeared to be based on a misunderstanding of equality.
“It is a fact of nature that same-sex unions are fundamentally and objectively different from the complementary sexual union of a woman and a man which is, of itself, naturally open to life,” he said.
While adding that he was conscious of same-sex partners who loved each other and wished to share their life together, marriage was “about much more than a loving relationship between consenting adults”.
“Marriage has another essential element - the openness to children who are born of the love and sexual relationship of their mother and father. If society adopts and imposes a ‘new orthodoxy’ of ‘gender-neutral’ marriage, being defined simply as a union between any two persons - including a man and a man, or a woman and woman - then it will become increasingly difficult to speak or teach in public about marriage as being between a man and a woman,” he said.
He urged everyone to reflect and pray carefully about these issues before voting on May 22nd and “not to be afraid to speak up for the union of a man and a woman in marriage.”