Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Ford: My difficulty balancing support for gay marriage with the beliefs of my church

Alliance leader David Ford's views have caused division

David Ford has spoken of the difficulty he faces in balancing his party's support for same sex marriage with his Presbyterian beliefs.

The leader of the Alliance Party said his personal position on same sex marriage is in line with his party as he admitted this stance had caused difficulties within his congregation.

The MLA compared the debate over gay marriage to the civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland 50 years ago.

Mr Ford, who stepped aside as a church elder over his support for same-sex unions, said he believes the ideal situation is heterosexual marriage and gay marriages fall short of that.

But he told the BBC's Sunday Sequence: "I think it's not for majorities to tell minorities that feel discriminated against that they're not being discriminated against. I think you only have to look back at the history of this region in the 1950s and '60s to see the dangers of majorities telling minorities that discrimination isn't real."

Last September, the Alliance Party voted in support of legislation to allow gay civil marriage in Northern Ireland.

Mr Ford voluntarily stepped aside as an elder in Second Donegore Presbyterian Church near Templepatrick after some members of the congregation expressed concerns about his support for marriage equality laws.

The church is due to consider his position on the issue.

Mr Ford said that his political position was a focus for some limited dissent within the congregation.

"I know there were a small number who had a conversation with the minister and I've had conversations both in the presbytery and in the session, before I voluntarily stepped aside, just to be very clear, currently from the active duties of the office, not from the office," he said.

"I think that is very much an issue which is in the hands of the session of Second Donegore as to whether or when they might wish me to resume those duties."

Mr Ford told the BBC programme it had been a difficult time for him and his family given the way the controversy has raged.

The Alliance Party supports same sex marriage in Northern Ireland, while the Presbyterian church strongly opposes the move.

Mr Ford said his personal position on same sex marriage was the same as the party's position.

"I believe the state has a duty to provide services for citizens on an equal basis, and at the same time, the state has a duty to protect the rights of churches to define and practice their own beliefs," he said.

Last week, Mr Ford's predecessor Lord Alderdice said he felt the party leader had been treated harshly over the issue.

"I think that's an extremely difficult position for him and it seems to me that the way he has been treated has not been characterised by the kind of brotherly love, concern and thoughtful engagement that ought to be characteristic of the church," he said.

Story so far

Last year the Alliance Party voted in support of legislation to allow gay civil marriage.

Party leader David Ford said the vote followed months of consultation with party members and associations. He said the proposals included safeguards for religious groups so they would not be forced into allowing their premises to be used.

Earlier this month, Mr Ford voluntarily stepped aside as an elder in Second Donegore Presbyterian Church after some members of the congregation expressed concerns about his support for marriage equality laws. His position on the issue is to be examined by the church.

Last week, a Sinn Fein motion calling on the Executive to legislate to allow for same sex marriage was defeated in the Assembly by 53 votes to 42.

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