School children were encouraged to sign an anti-gay marriage petition at a state-funded Catholic school in Carshalton.

Sixth form girls were invited by the school’s headteacher to sign an anti-equality pledge called Coalition for Marriage.

Maria Noone, St Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls headteacher, has upset pupils and parents after allowing a presentation on religious opposition to the Government’s proposals to allow gay couples to marry in civil ceremonies.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is investigating claims the Catholic Education Service broke impartiality rules on gay marriage by writing to nearly 400 state-funded Roman Catholic secondary schools in March inviting them to back the petition.

St Philomenas was one of only a handful of schools in the UK to give a presentation on the subject, it has emerged.

The decision to publicise the anti-gay marriage petition might even breach St Philomenas own equality diversity and community cohesion policy, which states that the school aims to make sure that no one experiences any unlawful discrimination because of their sexual identity and orientation.

One sixth form student told “In our assembly for the sixth form you could feel people bristling as she explained parts of the letter and encouraged us to sign the petition.

“She said things about gay marriage and civil partnerships being unnatural. It was just a really out-dated, misjudged and heavily-biased presentation.

"A few of us in my year are buying Gay Pride badges to pin on our uniform and thought about staging a Stonewall coup by posting the ‘Some people are gay – get over it’ posters around school.

“Most importantly though, there are several people in my year who aren’t heterosexual – myself included – and I for one was appalled and disgusted by what they were encouraging.

“After all, that’s discrimination they were urging impressionable people to engage in, which is unacceptable.”

One parent said: “I think it’s absolutely outrageous the Catholic church decides to dictate how people should live their lives – especially when the Catholic church has done so much over the years to distort the word of the Bible.

“Weren’t we taught to love one another and to respect other people’s beliefs?”

Another parent said: “I think it is upsetting – I was upset.

“Almost every child there has someone in their family or friends they know is gay.

“My daughter was upset by it – I have a brother who is gay – my daughter’s uncle.

“We’ve come a long way with people’s views on gay people.”

A spokesman for Quest, an organisation for lesbian and gay Catholics said: “In this day and age, most people have lesbians and gays as friends and neighbours, so the authorities need to choose their words and arguments with greater care and precision.

“In many of our schools, sadly, this lesson does not seem to have been learned.”

The school primarily serves the Catholic community and Catholic children have priority of admission.

The sixth form offers places to both Catholics as well as non-Catholics.

Headmistress Maria Noone hung up her phone when contacted by the Sutton Guardian and a PR agency acting on the school’s behalf turned down our offer of writing a 250-word column defending her decision.

When asked if Miss Noone was anti-gay her only response was: “I’m a Catholic.”

The school’s statement said: "The head and governors of St Philomena’s High School for Girls are aware of the reaction to recent assemblies regarding marriage given to the pupils at the school.

"Contrary to what has been published, those under the age of 16 were expressly informed they could not sign the petition, which simply proposes the legal definition of marriage remains the same.

"The assembly was based on the pastoral letter of the bishops conference on the church’s teaching on marriage and was delivered in response to a request from the Catholic Education Service.

"As a Catholic school, we have a duty to inform our students of the Church’s teaching on social issues while also promoting, supporting and respecting pupils’ right to think for themselves.

"St Philomena’s is committed to providing a welcoming, equal and inclusive environment for all our students. We make this clear in our Equality and Diversity information, which is on the school’s website.

"St Philomena’s continues to provide education and pastoral care to all our students, in accordance with the principles of equality and diversity."

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