Ireland will stage a referendum on same-sex marriage in 2015, officials said Tuesday, in a move already proving divisive in the historically Catholic nation.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter announced that proposals which would amend Ireland's constitution would be voted on in early 2015.

"I am very pleased that in response to the memo that I brought to Cabinet, the government today agreed to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage during the first half of 2015," Shatter said.

Earlier this year, the Constitutional Convention, a forum established to consider and make recommendations on possible future amendments to the constitution, voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the constitution be changed to allow for civil marriage for same-sex couples.

In July, the convention submitted its report to the coalition government, made up of centre-right party Fine Gael and their smaller Labour partners on the left.

A government spokesperson said Tuesday it would "actively support" the motion to change the constitution to allow gay marriage.

The previous coalition government introduced civil partnerships in Ireland in 2010.

Unsurprisingly, the motion has already faced criticism from the Catholic Church.

Denis Nulty, the bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, said that the Roman Catholic Church was against the proposed changes.

"Married love is a form of love between a man and woman which has a special benefit for the whole of society," he said in a statement.

"The Church will therefore participate fully in the democratic debate leading up to the referendum."

He added: "(The Catholic Church) 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."

Jerry Buttimer, a Fine Gael lawmaker and one of the few openly gay politicians in Ireland, said the decision was a momentous step towards a more inclusive and equal society.

"It is further evidence that our society has evolved and is becoming a place where, regardless of sexual orientation, you are treated as an equal citizen."

A number of other proposed changes are expected to be put to the people on the same date in 2015, including lowering the voting age to 16, in what some commentators are calling "Constitution Day".

In September, a government motion to abolish the upper house of parliament was defeated in a referendum.

Dublin also came under fire earlier this year for legislating for abortion after the death of an Indian woman in November 2012 heaped attention on the nation's strict termination laws.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which passed a vote in parliament in July, allows for abortion in circumstances where doctors certify there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, as opposed to just a health risk.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]