Vitriolic attacks on marriage equality in Christmas sermons by senior Catholic figures in England and Wales have been criticised as unfair and inaccurate by the Westminster MP who launched the UK government consultation on introducing same-sex marriage.
Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone was also the first elected politician to take part in the Out4Marriage campaign.
The response to the reported sermons from Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols and Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury came on Ms Featherstone's website, and are made, she says, "not in anger – but in sorrow".
The Bishop of Shrewsbury has caused astonishment and offence by likening voluntary plans for same-sex marriage to Nazi ideology. Critics point out that this is especially inappropriate, since gay people were among those exterminated by the Nazis.
The Archbishop of Westminster, meanwhile, chose his Christmas Day homily to criticise marriage equality proposals, having described them in a media interview as "undemocratic and a shambles".
The comments have been strongly criticised as 'unseasonal', 'unfair' and 'inaccurate' within and beyond the Catholic community.
Ms Featherstone, who is for MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, and now Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, wrote: "Of course you can disagree with equal marriage. You can believe that it can only be between a man and a woman. You can ultimately resist getting married to someone of the same sex if you don’t want to when this becomes law. What you surely cannot do is simply rail against the fact that not everyone subscribes to your point of view and try and stop others living life in a different way than your religion dictates."
She continued: "[I]t is quite shameful to argue against equal marriage on the grounds that religions will be forced to conduct such marriages. The Government’s intention [is] to make it possible for those religions that wish to conduct such services to have the freedom to so do – and the Government is bending over backwards (some would say too far) to ensure any fears of religions being forced to conduct such marriages are unwarranted.
"It is even more shameful when that argument is lost to simply shift to the next argument as being the most important – that there is no mandate (The Rt Rev Mark Davies’ Christmas message). Good grief! Not only did all three leaders at the time of the election and since make clear that they all supported equal marriage; not only is it in the Conservative Equality commitment document; not only is it Liberal Democrat Party policy; not only do all polls show the majority in favour of equal marriage; not only did the largest response to a consultation by government in all history also show a majority in favour – but since when did any government do only that which was in a manifesto? A manifesto is a prospectus of what a government will do – not a prospectus of all it will do. The Coalition agreement is a compromise of the two manifestos. That does not preclude – and never has – the bringing forward of further proposals which are then democratically decided by a vote in the Houses of Parliament.
"The other argument brought forth and paraded is that of ‘redefining’ marriage. Well – that depends on your definition. Mine is exactly what the Archbishop of Westminster decries in his statement – that where there is love and commitment between two people that is all you need for marriage. ...
"It is very disappointing that religious leaders who object so forcefully to equal marriage seem to have so little faith in their own beliefs. If their religious beliefs are that marriage can only be between a man and a woman – they should have the confidence in their flocks to believe that too. And if it is their own flocks’ potential for disagreeing with them that is their real fear – then that is a matter for religious leaders and their congregations to sort out", Ms Featherstone concluded.
The harshly-toned campaign against marriage equality by some church leaders also appears to be backfiring. New ICM polling for Guardian newspaper finds that 62 per cent of the public are now in favour of equal marriage, compared with 45 per cent in March 2012.
A whole range of other Christian and religious groups back the freedom of both civic and faith communities to decide whether to conduct same-sex weddings or not. They include Quakers, the United Reformed Church, Liberal Jews and Unitarians.