The head of the Catholic Church in Scotland has fiercely attacked the British government's plans to allow gay marriage, calling the proposals "madness."
In an article for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Scottish Roman Catholic Cardinal Keith O'Brien accused the coalition government of trying to "redefine reality."
He called the plans "a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right," and said the government's backing for marriage to include homosexual couples was "madness."
Prime Minister David Cameron has openly advocated gay marriage. Britain's equalities minister will launch a consultation later this month on how to change the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
While O'Brien conceded that arguing in favor of "traditional" marriage "risks one being labeled an intolerant bigot," he said changing the definition of marriage would "deliberately" deprive children of the right to a mother or father and "shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world."
O'Brien also cast doubt on government assurances that churches would not be forced to perform gay marriages: "Imagine for a moment that the government had decided to legalize slavery but assured us that 'no one will be forced to keep a slave'," he said. "Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right?"
Margot James, the first openly gay female lawmaker from the ruling Conservative party, criticized the Cardinal's use of "apocalyptic language" and accused him of scaremongering.
"I think it is a completely unacceptable way for a prelate to talk," she told the BBC. "The Government is not trying to force Catholic churches to perform gay marriages at all. It is a purely civil matter."
The Home Office said Sunday that the government believes that "if a couple love each other" and want to commit to a life together they should "have the option of a civil marriage irrespective of their sexual orientation."