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Proposed law won't force church ministers to officiate same-sex weddings in Northern Ireland

Earlier this month, same-sex couples were able to register for marriage

2020-01-21

Words: Steve Brown

A proposed law will not force church ministers to officiate same-sex weddings in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK that did not recognise same-sex marriages as well as banning abortion except when a mother’s life is at risk.

However, last year, LGBTQ citizens across Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK celebrated as marriage equality and abortion rights arrived in Northern Ireland.

More than six years after legislation was passed in England and Wales allowing LGBTQ people to marry the person they love, the UK can finally say that it has marriage equality for all.

Back in July, Westminster Parliament backed marriage equality in Northern Ireland and voted that it would be introduced to the country by as early as October, unless there is a power-sharing executive formed at Stormont.

Earlier this month, same-sex couples will be able to register to marry, meaning the first ceremonies will take place in February.

For couples who are already married, their marriage will now be legally recognised in Northern Ireland.

But those in civil partnerships will not be able to convert it to a marriage at this current stage, but the Northern Ireland Office is set to begin a consultation later this year about this. Heterosexual couples are also now able to enter into civil partnerships.

But now, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has begun a consultation on changing civil partnerships to marriage and the role of churches and they say that no church minister will be forced to have to officiate same-sex weddings.

It said: “It will not be possible to compel any person to be registered by the registrar general as empowered to solemnise same-sex religious marriages; apply for a temporary authorisation to solemnise one or more same-sex religious marriages.

“It will not be possible to compel an officiant to solemnise marriages of same-sex couples, where the reason for the officiant not wishing to solemnise the marriage is because it is a marriage of a same-sex couple.

“It will not be possible to compel religious bodies (or persons acting on their behalf or under their auspices) to apply to the registrar general for a member to be registered as empowered to solemnise same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland; give consent to same-sex marriage; or provide, arrange, facilitate or participate in, or be present at the solemnisation of a same-sex marriage.”

Rev Chris Hudson – minister of All Souls Church in Belfast, and a member of the Non-Subscribing Church of Ireland – says he wants the same freedom of religion in Northern Ireland like the same as counterparts in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

“There should be legally protected freedom of religion for those churches who want to offer weddings to same-sex couples, as well as to those who do not wish to provide this service to their LGBT+ believers," he said.

“In Northern Ireland, that is a legal right which is currently denied to churches, ministers like me and same-sex couples of faith, who want to conduct their wedding in a religious setting. The government must address this clear inequality without further delay.”