The Catholic Church has indicated it will oppose a vote on gay marriage in the Republic, saying any change to the nature of marriage would "undermine" it as the fundamental building block of society.
In a statement from the Catholic Communications Office, Bishop Denis Nulty said the Catholic Church will continue to hold that the differences between a man and woman are "not accidental to marriage but fundamental to it".
He says that children have a "natural right to a mother and a father" and that this is the best environment for them where possible.
"Married love is a unique form of love between a man and woman which has a special benefit for the whole of society. With others of no particular religious view, the Church regards the family based on marriage between a woman and a man as the single most important institution in any society.
"To change the nature of marriage would be to undermine it as the fundamental building block of our society. The Church will therefore participate fully in the democratic debate leading up to the referendum and will seek with others to reaffirm the rational basis for holding that marriage should be reserved for the unique and complimentary relationship between a woman and a man from which the generation and upbringing of children is uniquely possible," he said.
Bishop Denis Nulty is Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin and a member of the national executive of Accord, Catholic Marriage Care Service.
The comments come as it was revealed the Republic is to vote in the first half of 2015 on introducing gay marriage.
Five years after same-sex couples were first given the right to c ivil partnership a referendum will be held to extend full equality in relationships.