The Catholic Church in Ireland has launched its first shot in opposition to the same-sex marriage referendum planned for next May.

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, appointed in July, has warned that legalizing same-sex marriage would change the meaning of marriage itself.

“It would mean the unique relationship between marriage and procreation would disappear completely from the definition of marriage,” Doran said.

In a hard-hitting lecture in Roscommon, Doran added, “In a culture of live and let live there might be a tendency to say, sure what harm will it do if the two men or the two women love one another?”

He posed the question, “What, in the final analysis, is the difference between a sexual friendship (in which the state has no interest) and a marriage?”

The bishop’s answer was that societies rely on families built on strong marriages to produce what they need -- healthy upright children who become conscientious citizens.

Doran said it was suggested that people of the same sex could care for children and provide them with love and security. That was undoubtedly true, but it was only part of what society meant by parenthood.

He added, “Children have a right as Pope Francis says, to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's growth and emotional development.

“Even where adoption is concerned, in order to replicate as closely as possible the relationship of the natural family, the Catholic Church along with many others, would argue that the adoptive parents should always be one man and one woman in a stable committed relationship.”

He was conscious that same-sex couples who have lived together in a committed relationship for many years have serious concerns about what happens when one of them becomes seriously ill or dies. There were very real issues about visiting rights and consultation in hospitals and about inheritance.

“By all means, let the state provide for these rights,” the bishop said at the event organized by the Iona Institute, a group which promotes the place of marriage and religion in society.

“But let’s be clear, people have those rights because they are people, and not particularly because of their sexual orientation.”