DUP to seek legal protection for churches who refuse to wed same-sex couples

Following the passing of marriage equality in the North, the DUP are doubling down on their efforts to stop what they view as the “redefinition of marriage”.

Arlene Foster in a jacket standing outside a government building

Following the news of abortion laws being reformed and same-sex marriage being legalised in Northern Ireland, the DUP have stated that they remain opposed to both the “extreme liberalisation of abortion legislation” and same-sex marriage. They have also stated that they will seek to provide legal protection for churches who refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Before the laws were reformed this Monday, October 21, the DUP did everything in their power to stop the changes, with leader Arlene Foster attempting to re-establish government the evening before the deadline. After their failure to reinstate the government and block both the legalisation of same-sex marriage and the liberalisation of abortion laws, Foster told the chamber at Stormont that the party would take “every possible legal option” to “protect the life of the unborn”. 

Despite the DUPs efforts, the legislation did indeed pass on Monday. Foster came out with a statement to confirm that the party still oppose what they view as the “redefinition of marriage” and the “extreme liberalisation of abortion legislation”. The party have gone on to say that they will seek to bring in “religious protections” in order to legally protect any church who refuse to wed same-sex couples.

These proposed measures by the DUP will almost certainly be backed by three of Northen Ireland’s largest churches; The Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, who have all stated that they will not be performing same-sex ceremonies despite the reforms. However, one Presbyterian Church in south Belfast, All Souls Church, said they will provide marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, with the church’s moderator, Reverend Chris Hudson, saying he welcomes the new legislation and will personally host the weddings.

One couple who are rejoicing the new laws are Gary and Tom Rowntree-Finlay, who were wed last year in Cyprus in a humanist ceremony and are now planning a second service back at home after the passing of marriage equality. Gary and Tom decided to take the next step in their relationship at a time it was illegal in Northern Ireland, forcing the couple to wed abroad. Gary explained the pain of not having the right to wed Tom at home saying; “We couldn’t even have a token wedding here. Morally it didn’t feel right.” The couple is excited to have a similar wedding ceremony to the one they had in Cyprus, but this time at home in Belfast. 

Gary and Tom Rowntree-Finlay to be wed next year despite actions taken by the DUP

The regulations to provide same-sex marriage in the North are set to be brought in by the Westminster Government by 13 January 2020, with couples needing to give a 28-day notice of their intention to marry. This means that the first same-sex marriages will take place in the same week as Valentine’s Day, Gary and Tom being just one of many. 

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