Church Leaders Fear Northern Ireland’s New Same-Sex Marriage Law Puts Religious Liberty in Jeopardy

Church Leaders Fear Northern Ireland’s New Same-Sex Marriage Law Puts Religious Liberty in Jeopardy

Following the July 16 passage of Northern Ireland’s Marriage and Civil Partnership Regulations 2020, the Presbyterian Church, one of the country’s largest Christian denominations, has expressed worry that Christians who hold Biblical beliefs about marriage will be forced to affirm same-sex marriage.

“We have a concern that in a tolerant society people’s conscience and freedoms should be protected in the law—people who are involved in what may be termed the ‘marriage business’: photographers, florists, car hire firms, civil registrars,” the Reverend Daniel Kane, convener of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s council for public affairs, told Premier Christian News.

The legislation removes the prohibition on the religious marriage of same-sex couples starting on Sept. 1, but will not compel churches or individual clerics to conduct ceremonies for same-sex couples. However, the law doesn’t give the same protection to those in the marriage industry.

Kane suggests that the Northern Irish Assembly “should find creative ways to give these people the freedom to express their sincerely held points of view, both within the Christian community and others who are not within the Christian community as well.”

This is not the first time Northern Ireland’s religious liberty has been called into question.

In 2014, Daniel and Amy McArthur, owners of Ashers Bakery in Belfast, refused to make a cake with the message “Support Gay Marriage” on it because it went against their scriptural beliefs.

The customer, gay rights activist Gareth Lee, filed suit against the couple for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.

Four years later, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court ruled that since the McArthurs’ refusal to make the cake was based on their objection to the message on the cake, not the customer, it was not discrimination.

While the court ruled in favor of religious liberty in that particular case, many believe this new law could drive a rash of lawsuits against Christians who believe that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman.

Speaking about this as a potential consequence, Kane warned, “We would have to be prepared to stand up and have the courage of our convictions.”


Above: Thousands of people celebrate gay pride in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Photo: Velar Grant/Alamy Stock Photo

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