LONDON, April 26, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – British Parliamentarians heard this week that if David Cameron’s Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government passes its same-sex “marriage” bill, the Catholic Church in England and Wales may be forced to entirely opt out of the civil aspect of conducting marriages.

The government’s bill has passed by an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons and is now being studied by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The committee heard on Tuesday from Professor Chris McCrudden, of Blackstone Chambers, the lawyer who advised the Roman Catholic Church on the bill. “The stakes could not be higher,” he said on Tuesday.

Under the current wording of the bill, the “threat of litigation...would be enormous.”

“If we want to keep the current modus vivendi, it is imperative that unintended consequences that may undermine this system should be addressed now and not left until later,” McCrudden said.

“Immediately the bill is passed, the Catholic Church will have to consider how exposed to legal risk it is and whether it can continue to work the existing legal system based on that assessment,” he said.

The government has insisted that wording in the bill creates legal protections for clergy, but they have been repeatedly warned that these “safeguards” are meaningless in the current legal situation.

Catholic priests currently officiate at 8,500 weddings a year in Britain and are recognized as “authorized persons” to marry couples on behalf of the state, he said. They are therefore technically regarded as state officials and as such, homosexuals who want to force the issue could demand that the priests conduct the ceremony or face a claim of unlawful discrimination.

Even if such efforts by individuals, or campaign groups were to fail, the expense of fighting the cases would be crippling for the Church, McCrudden added.

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McCrudden, who is the William W. Cook Global Law Professor at Queen’s University in Belfast, specializes in human rights, with a concentration on issues of equality and discrimination.

He has already warned MPs of the consequences of the bill for Catholic schools and for teachers.

At the same time, homosexual lobbyists are concerned that the House of Lords may kill the unpopular bill. The biggest uncertainty facing the same-sex marriage bill is how the House of Lords will vote, Peter Tatchell, said.

“There is no room for complacency,” Tatchell added. “We need to lobby the Lords just like we lobbied the Commons. Church leaders and right-wing peers are determined to derail the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. They’ll try to vote it down or introduce wrecking amendments.”

In January, a group of more than 1,000 priests issued a public letter warning that the time of persecution of Catholics could be returning with the imposition of “gay marriage”. The bill, they said, along with existing “equalities laws” and other legal restraints threatens religious freedom and will bring back state-sponsored attacks on clergy.

Philip Egan, the Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth told the Daily Telegraph, “I am very anxious that when we are preaching in Church or teaching in our Catholic schools or witnessing to the Christian faith of what marriage is that we are not going to be able to do it, that we could be arrested for being bigots or homophobes.”

Meanwhile, the “gay marriage” bill is being partly blamed for the continuing fall of Cameron’s Conservative Party in the polls.

In local elections set for next week, experts estimate that the Conservatives could lose between 200 and 500 seats. Some put the estimate as high as 850.

Peter Oborne wrote in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday about expected gains of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) at the upcoming European Union elections. “Coming less than a year before the 2015 general election, such an outcome could easily cause disarray in Tory ranks, and even precipitate an attempt to unseat David Cameron as leader,” he said.

UKIP is currently the only British political party that opposes “gay marriage” as part of its platform.

Until the early 19th century, in the period following King Henry VIII’s break with the pope over his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Catholics suffered severe restrictions known as the “penal laws,” requiring Catholics to abjure the temporal and spiritual authority of the pope and deny the central doctrine of transubstantiation. To this day, Catholicism is still seen as a foreign and somewhat suspect creed for many British people.