With the legalisation of same-sex marriages now official and several couples already becoming newly-weds, the Northern Ireland Office is currently drawing up plans for regulations surrounding the still recent legislation, which was implemented into the province back in January. The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has also consulted the public for their views on said regulations. These consultations are set to end 23 February.
One of the regulations that is being introduced is that wedding service providers such as florists, hotels and photographers will not be given an “opt-out” clause that would allow them to refuse same-sex couples on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The NIO also referred to it as “black-and-white”, meaning there are no grey areas for which these providers can use to discriminate against same-sex couples, though it also mentioned how the Northern Irish government envisions churches being allowed to have an opt-out clause to refuse same-sex ceremonies. This, however, will not include marriage service providers or registrars.
While the move towards same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland is being welcomed as highly progressive, it was heavily criticised by Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader, Jim Allister, as reported by Pink News.
Allister, who opposed the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1982 and whose party has a socially conservative viewpoint, said that it would be “intolerable and wrong” for the regulation to not extend protections for marriage service providers who profit from hosting and serving weddings.
He also referred to the Supreme Court ruling of the Christian-run Ashers Bakery in 2018, which won a case against LGBT+ rights activist Gavin Lee after they refused to bake a cake for him on the basis of religious grouds. In that case, Allister warned that the regulation would “fly in the face” of the Supreme Court ruling, arguing that it would “strip people like the McArthur family of legal protection should they refuse to provide services for a same-sex marriage”.
The TUV leader also accused the NIO of ignoring “the civil, religious, human and employment rights of registrars”, who – unlike the church – are employed by the local government in a non-religious capacity.
Allister stated, “we have a situation where people have taken up the position of registrars under one set of conditions and now those conditions have been radically changed,” he added. “If, as is often claimed, same-sex marriage was really about rights then this issue would have been addressed.”
The debate surrounding freedom of religion and LGBT+ rights has long been a contentious one, which is not exclusive to just Northern Ireland. This was seen back in January when religious bodies and ministers, similar to the UK and south of Ireland, were not compelled to offer same-sex marriages. It was similarly seen when concessions were won by the anti-LGBT+ Christian Institute, which allows them to criticise same-sex marriage and fire staff who enter into a same-sex marriage.
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