Dublin: The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland on Tuesday appealed for a "No" vote in May`s historic referendum in the predominantly Catholic nation for a constitutional amendment to allow same-sex marriage.
Ireland`s Catholic Bishops` Conference said in a statement ahead of the May 22 vote: "Marriage is important, reflect before you change it."
"We are concerned that, should the amendment be passed, it will become increasingly difficult to speak any longer in public about marriage as being between a man and a woman," they said.
Polls indicate that Ireland will vote for gay marriage but they also show that many "Yes" voters have reservations which could narrow that lead.
The influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has waned in the wake of a series of child sex abuse scandals, but 84.2 percent of the population still identified as Catholic in the 2011 census.
The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamonn Martin said bishops respected the views of people who think differently but also said it was important that their views are heard and respected as well.
"We should try to respect the views of people who think differently to us and also, we trust, that our sincerely held views which are grounded in faith will also be heard and respected," he told RTE radio.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who called the referendum, said the vote "sets out our image of a very tolerant and inclusive Ireland."
"This is about the tolerance and respect and understanding and sensitivity," he said last month.