22/03/2012 18:36 GMT | Updated 22/05/2012 06:12 BST

Catholic Church Must Change Stance on Same-Sex Marriage

Recently the debate about the same-sex marriage bill has gathered momentum. On the one hand Prime Minister David Cameron and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone have made the case for much needed reform.

On the other, the likes of Cardinal Keith O'Brien and the Daily Telegraph have run a campaign attempting to stop the bill from becoming law. Among the many things that have been said, one caught my attention, because it reflects a viewpoint more appropriate for a piece published in the 13th century, rather than the 21st century.

In an article written on 5 March for the Daily Telegraph Cardinal O'Brien likened gay marriage to slavery. Now, it is a bit rich for a representative of the Catholic Church, one of the institutions that supported and encouraged the enslavement of human beings for almost 400 years, to try to teach us about morality and to use slavery as a reference point while doing so.

Same-sex marriage is nothing like slavery, and the Cardinal should know that well. Slavery, at least the sort that the Catholic Church merrily supported for centuries, involved wars, kidnappings, rapes, destruction of the environment, removal and breakdown of families, extra-economic exploitation of labour, and yes, deaths. Millions of deaths.

Same-sex marriage, on the other hand, is a right that people who happen not to be heterosexual wish to have, and one that the vast majority of the British people, and it pleases me to say, the British government, agree with.

If anything, the opposition of the Catholic Church to same-sex marriage bears a striking resemblance to their opposition to the abolition of slavery in the 19th century; an opposition they also based on the same moral values they are using today. It was not until well into the 19th century, in 1839, that Pope Gregory XVI finally and belatedly condemned slavery in his bull In Supremu Apostolatu. And it took another century and a half for Pope John Paul II to apologise for the participation of the Church in the enslavement of millions of people during a visit to the island of Goree in Senegal in 1992.

Beyond his unfortunate and badly informed comparison between same-sex marriage and slavery, Cardinal O'Brien should also think twice before referring to gay marriage and abortion as aberrations. No other institution has been more exposed to condemnations of aberrations -and I should add cover ups of aberrations- as the Catholic Church has in recent years. Perhaps Cardinal O'Brien may want to talk about and condemn instead the paedophile priests that have abused children all around the world under the negligent eyes of the institution he represents.

David Cameron and Lynne Featherstone have shown leadership and understanding of an ever changing world. Cameron's position in particular, coming from a conservative background, should inspire rather than deter the leadership of the Catholic Church towards a much needed change in their stance.

This bill is not about the Catholic Church or about the Catholic faithful, but about a human right for a considerable number of fellow human beings that has been neglected for far too long. It is time for Cardinal O'Brien to close his window into the 13th century and show some solidarity towards his own kind, regardless of their sexual orientation.