Scottish Cardinal Suspends Talks With State Officials Over Gay Marriage Row

The relationship between the Scottish Catholic Church and the government has become strained over the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, further showing how the issue has proven divisive in the United Kingdom.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien has been strongly opposed to the Scottish government's current plans to change the traditional definition of marriage to include same-sex couples by 2012, and has reportedly compared homosexual wedlock to "aberrations" like slavery and abortion.

Although the Scottish government has tried to communicate with O'Brien to induce further discussion on same-sex marriage, the cardinal has said that the relationship between the church and government officials is strained and he does not wish to personally speak with state officials.

"Cardinal O'Brien is really keen that the perspective and the position of the Catholic Church is conveyed to the Scottish government, but he isn't convinced that he necessarily has to do that in person," said the cardinal's spokesman, Peter Kearney, according to The Telegraph.

"The position is that the relationship between the Cardinal and the Government is definitely strained as a result of their decision on same-sex marriage," he added.

Kearney clarified that the Catholic Church in Scotland still remains open to talks, but wants government officials to be aware of the "feeling of deep disappointment in the Church and a sense that engagement and dialogue is possible but difficult when the Government continually ignores all the concerns raised by the Church."

The Scottish government noted that there had been a conversation between First Minister Alex Salmond and Cardinal O'Brien on Saturday which it described as "entirely amicable," but also admitted that church leaders and government ministers will not always see eye to eye on policy issues.

"We have the utmost respect for the different views expressed in the debate," the government spokesman said. "While this is an honest disagreement over policy, on a personal level relations between the First Minister and the Cardinal are extremely good, as they are with Scotland's other faith leaders – Mr. Salmond holds the Cardinal in the highest regard and will always do so."

Meanwhile, Northern Irish church leaders have also come out on the side of the Scottish Church in its remarks that the same-sex marriage issue had strained its relations with the government, and agreed that traditional marriage needs to be defended.

"As far as the Church of Ireland is concerned, the General Synod of last May made it very clear that it understands marriage to be between one man and one woman. For that reason the Church of Ireland could not marry same-sex couples. I think it is important, nonetheless, to emphasize that the stance of the Church is not in any way intended to be hostile to gay people," wrote Canon Ian Ellis, editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette.

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