The Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Sean Brady, has warned that the government will be making the same mistakes as Britain and the U.S. if it introduces legislation to give unwed couples who live together the same rights as married partners.

Brady's warning at a conference in Shannon, Co. Clare, on Tuesday followed Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly's announcement last week when she pointed out the anomaly that the social welfare code recognizes cohabiting couples, but the tax code does not.

In a trenchant defense of marriage, Brady said international surveys showed children born outside of marriage are more likely to be unemployed, use drugs or get involved in crime.

He told the conference that the government is undermining the will of God if it doesn't protect the special status of marriage in the Constitution.

"Ireland looks set to repeat the mistakes of societies like Britain and the U.S. by introducing legislation which will promote cohabitation, remove most incentives to marry and grant same-sex couples the same rights as marriage in all but adoption," Brady said.

A Civil Partnership Bill published by the government last June is expected to become law during 2009, although many Fianna Fail TDs (members of Parliament) are opposed to it.

Brady said the proposed legislation would dissolve the special status of marriage between a man and wo-man enshrined in the Constitution. It would give "de facto marriage rights" to cohabiting or same-sex couples - and should be blocked, he said.

He maintained that any change in the current laws would signal the greatest revolution in the history of the Irish family.

"But will it be a revolution which promotes the common good of our society?" he asked. "Will it really help children and married couples or will it further erode marriage at a time when research and experience point to the value of marriage for children and society?"

He added, "The priority of the family over society and over the state has to be reaffirmed. The family does not exist for society or the state, but society and the state exist for the family."

Brady was speaking on the theme of "The Family as the Foundation of Society" at a conference promoted by the Ceifin Center, a small Catholic Church organization that generates debate on social issues. Céifin derives its name from Ceibhfhionn, the Celtic Goddess of Inspiration.