THE Catholic Church has warned government ministers that they face a major rebellion over same-sex marriage plans, after sending 100,000 “protest cards” to its parishioners.
The Church warned that the SNP would pay the price at the ballot box, with those practising the faith unlikely to back a party “that would dismantle the meaning of marriage”.
Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said feelings on the issue dwarfed opposition to parts of the offensive behaviour at football bill, which is aimed at ridding the game of sectarianism.
“In terms of an issue of importance to the Catholic Church, this is fundamental, utterly fundamental,” he said.
“Our concerns about the offensive behaviour at football [legislation], on a scale of one to ten, is a two or a three. Same-sex marriage is a ten. We always took the view that things like the football bill can be improved, resolved, amended – there’s always scope for change. This is a line in the sand, an issue where there is complete unanimity.”
One side of the protest card has five bullet points explaining what marriage is. The other side is designed to be filled in by people who oppose the proposed laws, and then returned to the Catholic Church’s parliamentary office, which will present them to the Scottish Government.
First Minister Alex Salmond has tried to attract Catholic voters since coming to office, and he met the Rt Rev Philip Tartaglia, the Bishop of Paisley, on Friday after he warned of a “serious chill” in the Church’s relations with the SNP.
Mr Kearney said: “I can’t see how any Catholic, in good conscience, could support a party which would enact such a law. It’s impossible to imagine.
“We know Catholic voters are a spectrum of people, with those who practice and uphold their faith and those who are pretty much lapsed. But it’s impossible to see how a Catholic who upholds their faith could support anyone who would dismantle the meaning of marriage.”
Cardinal Keith O’Brien has said the legislation would be a betrayal of Scotland’s 750,000 Catholics.
And, in a letter to parishes, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow wrote that any move to redefine civil partnerships as marriages “is of serious import and will be rightly resisted by many”. He added: “The Catholic Church, for one, will not accept it.”
The Scottish Government has launched a 14-week consultation on allowing “gay marriage” – a change to laws that allow same-sex couples to enter a civil partnership, but bans the ceremony from taking place in a church or other religious premises.
A spokesman for health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “We expressed our initial view in support of same-sex marriage when the consultation was launched –which is of course reflected in all the political parties, just as there will be diverse views within parties – but we have given an assurance that all opinions will be listened to, no final views have been reached and no decisions have been taken.
“When the consultation was issued, we also made it clear that we would be seeking meetings with religious groups, including the Catholic Church, to ensure their views can be taken into account.”
Patrick Harvie MSP, who is gay, urged the Church to focus its efforts and finances on other matters.
“There are people in Scotland whose religion motivates them to devote their time to making this world a better place for everyone; issues from global poverty and climate change, to the peace movement and protection for asylum seekers,” he said.
“It’s truly sad that with this deeply negative campaign, a handful of cardinals can undermine that work by pretending that the great moral issues of our age are all about who goes to bed with whom, or whether gay people should be treated equally.
“I hope they eventually get over this hang-up they seem to have, but, in the meantime, I’m confident that parliament will continue to work towards equality with the support of most Scots.”