The campaign group Christian Institute (CI) are threating legal action to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State over the recent changes to Northern Irish marriage laws. The ban on both same-sex marriage and abortion rights in Northern Ireland were lifted on October 21, 2019, at midnight due to the failure of the devolved Northern Ireland Executive to re-establish by the date given.
Many were thrilled and relieved at the results and saw the intervention as progress. However, some were not so excited with the amendments. Within the first two days of the laws changing, The Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church all came out to say they will not perform same-sex union ceremonies. The CI now want to cement what they feel is their right to do so.
Starting from Valentines Day, February 14, 2020, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland will be able to get married, the CI are now trying to make sure that churches will have the “religious freedom” to refuse to wed couples. The group are worried that there will not be as much protection for those who refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies as there is in the rest of Britain.
Simon Calvert, a spokesperson for CI claims that the Northern Ireland Office has implied that proper protections for those who refuse to perform marriages will not be in force. He went on to say the decision was rushed stating; “Parliament took the best part of a year to debate introducing same-sex marriage in England and Wales. For Northern Ireland, MPs took only a couple of hours. In the rest of the UK, there are many protections for those who disagree with same-sex marriage. Not so in Northern Ireland, with the Secretary of State and the NIO not seeming to be bothered.”
He continued by saying that; “Churches must not be sued if they refuse to do a same-sex marriage and public order law must be amended to stop church ministers being prosecuted for sermons that disagree with same-sex marriage. The new law has to make this clear.”
As it stands in the rest of the UK, any church official who chooses not to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies is protected by law, and therefore cannot be sued. The Christian Institute are seeking these same measures to be implemented in Northern Ireland, however, as of yet, the Northern Ireland Office has not commented.
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