Catholic bishops have yesterday renewed their opposition to gay marriage, stating that sexual differentiation is intrinsic to the Catholic’s understanding of the sacrament of marriage.

Following a meeting of the bishops held last week, the Irish Bishops’ Conference released a statement yesterday to reinstate the Christian theology of marriage.

“In view of the current debate in our society about the nature of marriage, sometimes promoted by individuals or institutions who claim support from Christian ideals, the bishops reiterated that marriage presupposes the mutuality and complementarily of the sexes”, the statement said.

“Christian tradition holds that sexual differentiation is intrinsic to our understanding of the sacrament of marriage. Marriage has a meaning that is not reducible to individuals’ intentions and society’s laws.

“It is oriented towards the sharing of their lives and the support they will give each other, and also towards the creation of new human beings as the fruit of their love.

It is for the sake of these two objectives that the loving marital relationship between a woman and a man needs to be one that is faithful, exclusive and lasting”, the bishops’ statement added.

The bishop’s statement may echo the sentiments of the majority of the Catholic Church, but not all within the church agrees.

Margaret Farley, professor of moral theology at Yale Divinity School and a member of the Sisters of Mercy order of nuns commented at a conference by the Irish School of Ecumenics last month at Trinity College Dublin that the sacrament of marriage was easily applicable to same-sex marriages.

“We have softened gender stereotypes in recent times and it becomes possible to say that any two people who have the gift of love – which is theologically a call by God to participate in the sacrament of marriage – to marry,” she told The Irish Times.

While she accepted her position was not by the majority of the Catholic Church, Prof Farley said many senior bishops were sympathetic to the needs of same-sex unions.

“In a Christian context, Catholic understanding of marriage as a sacrament can be applicable to same-sex marriages as well as to heterosexual marriages,” she said.

“We have to witness that homosexuality can be a way of embodying responsible human love and sustaining human and Christian fellowship.”

The Bishops’ statement comes in the middle of the 10-day Dublin Pride Festival, which named this year theme Always the Bridesmaid and Never the Bride.

The festival aims to highlight the lack of partnership rights for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community.

A new Bill is being finalised under which same-sex partners will be able to avail of marriage-like benefits in a range of areas such as property, social welfare, succession, maintenance, pensions and tax but does not recognise sex-sex couple to adopt.

However, the Bill unlikely to be published before the Dáil’s summer recess.

Government officials say progress has been delayed due to the Lisbon Treaty campaign and the Cabinet reshuffle following Brian Cowen’s appointment as Taoiseach.

However, some well-placed sources say there has been tension between the Green Party and Fianna Fáil over how far aspects of the legislation will go.