More than 1,000 Catholic priests have signed on to a letter criticizing the British government's plans to legalize gay marriage.

The priest say marriage equality is a greatest threat to religious freedoms since the Reformation and may lead to Catholics being excluded from jobs.

The open letter was published in the UK's The Daily Telegraph.

“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,” the priests wrote.

“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 and places of worship.”

“It is meaningless to argue that Catholics and others may still teach their beliefs about marriage in schools and other arenas if they are expected to uphold the opposite view at the same time.”

“It is quite Orwellian to try to redefine marriage,” said Rt. Rev. Philip Egan, the Bishop of Portsmouth and one of the signatories. “This is strong language but something like this totalitarian.”

“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.”

Rev. Dr. Andrew Pinsent, a leading Oxford University theologian who also signed the letter, defended the comparison.

“Henry VIII could have been forgiven for his adultery but he didn't want to do that, he wanted to control marriage and redefine what was a marriage and wasn't.”

“Because the church would not concede the point, that launched three centuries of great upheaval in English society, and from the Catholic point of view life was very difficult,” he said.