Secularists hit back yesterday at the Roman Catholic church's drive against plans to legalise gay marriage, following the publication of a letter from the Archbishop of Westminster calling on Catholics to oppose same-sex weddings.
Terry Sanderson, head of the National Secular Society, accused the church of homophobia yesterday for the manner in which they have opposed the plans.
The letter, signed by Vincent Nichols and his colleague the Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, comes just days after Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the most senior Catholic in Britain, described gay marriage as "grotesque". It will be read out at every mass in England and Wales this Sunday.
Archbishops Nichols and Smith use less shrill language in their pastoral letter but call on Catholics to oppose government plans to allow gay men and women to marry in secular ceremonies. Church leaders hope that the letter will spur lay Catholics into active opposition against gay marriage.
Terry Sanderson, head of the National Secular Society, said: "What the Government is actually proposing is entirely secular in nature, they are only proposing changes to civil marriage. For all their double talk about it being about religious freedom, homophobia does lie at the heart of it.
"If you see the sort of language the Pope uses about gay people it's not just a kind of 'we stick by our biblical morals', it's a kind of 'we are repulsed by this,'" he added.
David Cameron has signalled his intention to legalise gay marriage and later this month the Government will begin a public consultation on the issue.