Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has sparked outrage after likening gay marriage to slavery, claiming it is a violation of human rights.
The controversial comments were made on BBC Radio 4’s Today program this morning and follows an article by O’Brien in The Sunday Telegraph in which he described the UK government's plans for gay marriage as 'madness'.
In the interview with John Humphries, the cardinal said the definition of marriage is being ‘turned on its head’.
Defending his slavery comparison, he said: ‘I think it’s a very good example of what might happen in our own country if we go this way. I am simply handing on the teaching of the Christian church down through the years.’
‘The countries in which gay marriage is already legal are violating human rights,’ he added, saying those nations were ‘shaming themselves’.
‘We know what the UN declaration on human rights says and we know what follows on from something like this.
‘It seems to be the thin end of the wedge that’s changing the whole notion of what marriage and a family is. It affects children who have the right to have a mother and a father.’
UK gay humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT) slammed O’Brien’s condemnation of gay marriage as ‘totally predictable’ and ‘bizarre’.
George Broadhead, PTT secretary and veteran gay activist, said: ‘Given the Roman Catholic Church’s well-known views and policy on gay sexual relationships and rights, including civil partnership, not to mention Cardinal O’Brien’s previous homophobic outbursts, his latest are totally predictable.
‘His contention that gay marriage would shame the UK in the eyes of the world is also bizarre.
'Has the cardinal not heard that gay marriage has already been legalized in no fewer than 10 countries?
'I am not aware that any of these countries have suffered shame or any sort of pariah status as a result. This just shows how out of touch with reality the Roman Catholic Church has become.’
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell shared the PTT’s views and points to opinion polls which shows that most Christians support gay equality and that 61% of the public support the right of gay couples to have a civil marriage in a register office.
‘If he supports marriage, the cardinal should welcome the fact that many lesbian and gay couples want to get married,’ said Tatchell, whose Equal Love campaign aims to end the twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships.
He added: ‘Allowing same-sex marriage does not undermine marriage; it strengthens it.
‘Gay marriage is about love and commitment. These are Christian values, so I don't understand why the cardinal objects to gay couples getting married.’
Ben Summerskill, CEO of UK gay rights group Stonewall, attacked the cardinal's claims that gay marriage would put the safety of children at risk in an interview with the BBC yesterday.
He said: 'Cardinal O’Brien comes from a church that’s been responsible for the abuse of tens of thousands of children in this country. They’ve never received apologies.
'It’s absurd to suggest that somehow if children are at risk in modern Britain, they are at risk because of a small number of lesbian and gay people in long term, monogamous relationships who want to get married.'
Brian Paddick, London’s openly gay mayoral candidate, also blasted O’Brien over his comments, saying there is ‘no sound intellectual argument against gay marriage.’
And The Times newspaper today backed gay marriage, claiming it would ‘enrich the institution of marriage, enhance social stability and expand the sum of human happiness.’