More than 1,000 Roman Catholic priests have signed a letter voicing fears that same-sex marriage legislation will restrict religious freedoms.
The letter, published in the Daily Telegraph, refers to “centuries of persecution” of and says a law change would restrict Catholic teaching.
According to the newspaper, it is one of the biggest joint letters of its type ever written.
The 1,067 signatories include 13 bishops.
They include the Rt Rev Peter Brignall, Bishop of Wrexham; the Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon, Bishop of Nottingham and the Rt Rev Philip Egan, Bishop of Portsmouth.
The government announced plans in December to introduce same-sex marriages before the next election, in 2015.
It is proposed that the Church of England and Church in Wales will be banned in law from offering such ceremonies, while no other religious organisation will be compelled to carry out same-sex marriages.
The Equal Marriage Bill is due to be published this month.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, has called on opponents of gay marriage to lobby MPs “clearly, calmly and forcefully, and without impugning the motives of others”.
‘Arrested as bigots’
The letter to the Telegraph urges MPs “not to be afraid to reject this legislation”.
It states that marriage is only possible between a man and woman and warns that a change in law will “severely restrict” Catholics’ ability to “teach the truth about marriage in schools and other arenas if they are also expected to uphold the opposite view at the same time”.
The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Philip Egan, told the Telegraph: “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.”
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “We have been very clear that our plans for equal marriage will fully protect the freedom of religions bodies to preach, teach and put into practice their beliefs about marriage.”