Over the weekend a thousand Catholic priests signed a letter warning about same-sex marriage, writing:

After centuries of persecution, Catholics have, in recent times, been able to be members of the professions and participate fully in the life of this country.

Legislation for same-sex marriage, should it be enacted, will have many legal consequences, severely restricting the ability of Catholics to teach the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship.

As Damian Thompson points out, this puts the Catholic Church in direct conflict with the Government at a time when the Tories are making a lot of enemies. Many Catholics are already unhappy about Government policies, especially those affecting low-income families, and this will fuel animosity towards the Coalition from a Church that has often been the Labour Party at prayer.

Ironically, much of the secular liberal orthodoxy that David Cameron is unconvincingly trying to embrace grew out of Christian ideas. The war on racism began with the churches and their campaign against discrimination; the soft socialist Left has always been Christian-heavy and motivated by ideas found in the Gospel.

But as more of the Church’s followers have fallen away from religion, a more radical sort of social gospel has attracted them, in large part motivated by sexual politics. And Catholic and mainline Christian attitudes towards gays and lesbians present the biggest stumbling block for the large constituency of sympathetic agnostics who make up the British public – not believers, but people attached to Christianity as part of Britain’s heritage, and of the view that if we’re going to base society on any moral philosopher, you could do worse than Jesus of Nazareth.

As this interesting Liberal Conspiracy post shows, the gay rights movement has been the most successful of all the new Left groups at changing attitudes, far more so than feminists. This is partly explained by it starting later, and from a lower base of public opinion, but it also reflects the reality that too many of the second-wave feminist goals have brought negative side-effects; women can’t have it all, just as men can’t; children are generally more attached to their mothers; sexual liberation has created a consumer-led sexualisation of childhood; liberation often liberates badly behaved men. Gay rights, on the other hand, has not led to family breakdown, unhappy children or atomisation: quite the opposite.