Ex-Alliance leader David Ford removed as elder of Second Donegore Presbyterian Church
Naomi Long shows support calling it a 'sad day for the church'
Former Alliance leader David Ford has said it is a "matter of great sadness" that he has been removed from his role as an elder in his Presbyterian church after supporting gay marriage.
In 2013 Mr Ford told of the difficulty he faced in balancing his party's support for same sex marriage with his Presbyterian beliefs.
The MLA compared the debate over gay marriage to the civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland 50 years ago.
At the time Mr Ford 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."
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 was set to consider his position and have confirmed he has been removed from his role in the congregation.
A statement was read to the congregation on Sunday morning.
However he remains an ordained elder of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
Mr Ford said he was informed on August 31 that the Templepatrick Presbytery had resolved to remove him as an elder because the other elders in the congregation "refused" to work with him.
Mr Ford appealed the decision and on October 12 the Judicial Commission (the highest appeal Court of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland told him the decision would be upheld.
It stated that the decision of the Presbytery be upheld.
Mr Ford said: "It is a matter of great sadness to Anne and I that both Presbytery and Session have failed to act to promote healing and unity within our church, despite repeated requests from us over the last nine months.
“I believed, as an elder, I had a part to play in making our congregation fit for purpose. Unfortunately, Presbytery and the Judicial Commission have now made that impossible. It remains to be seen whether or not I have any role in Dunamuggy. I thank those members of the congregation and others who have supported Anne, our family and me in word and in prayer through the last four difficult years of church life.”
A spokeswoman for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said that Mr Ford remained an ordained elder.
She said: "An elder is ordained by a Presbytery (not by a congregation) and becomes an elder of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. He or she is at the same time installed to a particular ‘sphere of service’, usually as an elder in a particular congregation – in this case a ruling elder in 2nd Donegore Presbyterian Church.
"While Mr Ford has been removed from his role as a ruling elder in the congregation of 2nd Donegore, he hasn’t been removed as an ordained elder of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, of which he remains an elder without charge in good standing."
Showing support to Mr Ford, acting Alliance party leader Naomi Long called it a "sad day for the church".
She said: "As a fellow Presbyterian and someone who believes passionately in freedom of and freedom from religion, who supports the separation of church and state, and who supports equal civil marriage because of my faith, not in spite of it, this is a very sad day for the church and a very painful day for many of us who support David Ford's position.
"His faith is clear to anyone who knows him, a man of principle who respects those who hold different views: that others cannot be so gracious or show humility in disagreement is regrettable to say the least.
"'By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,' John 13:35."