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Church News

Northern Ireland government u-turn after telling churches they could lose rights to host weddings under new gay marriage rules

by Marcus Jones

Authorities in Northern Ireland have backtracked after telling churches across Northern Ireland that they could lose their right to hold wedding ceremonies under new laws brought in over gay marriage.

A letter was sent to places of worship following changes to the law which will allow same sex unions from September.

The letter informed churches that they need to let the General Register Office (GRO) for Northern Ireland know whether they are open to hosting same sex ceremonies. 

They were told ff they didn't respond by 17th August, they will lose the right to host any weddings - gay or straight.

"If we do not receive any response by this date," the letter stated. "It will be assumed that you and other members of the church no longer wish to be registered as officiants for any type of marriage. 
The Christian Institute accused the authorities of using an "intimidating tone" and wrote to the GRO suggesting there is no legal basis for the letter and the timing of the deadline, the middle of the summer, was unfair.

Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute said: "This is an outrageous way to behave towards places of worship. 

"Like everyone else, they are under unprecedented pressures. Now, with just a few weeks' notice, they are being given an ultimatum about whether they will do same sex marriages - on pain of losing their ability to do any weddings at all. 

Following criticism of the letter, it was later withdrawn. In a statement, the GRO said: “We apologise for this. We will be issuing an updated letter to all religious bodies to clarify that all religious officiants on the Registrar General’s current register are regarded as opted out of performing same sex marriages.

“No officiants will be removed from the register and any religious bodies wishing to perform same sex marriages must opt in by completing the form issued with the letter.”

Responding to the u-turn, a spokesman for the Christian Institute said: "We welcome this climb down, which will reassure churches that they can continue to carry out weddings - the union of one man and one woman - and do not need to re-register with the GRO in order to opt out of conducting same-sex weddings."

Same sex marriage in Northern Ireland was legalised this year following an intervention from MPs in Westminster. Taking advantage of the NI Assembly being locked down, they voted to bring the country's laws in line with the rest of the United Kingdom.

No church will be forced to carry out a same sex marriage, while those wishing to do so will need to be given approval from their denomination.

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