I lost my gay uncle to Aids... his death made me support same-sex marriage
The daughter of a former leading Presbyterian minister has revealed her heartache at her gay uncle's death from Aids and called on the Church to think again about its attitude to same-sex marriage.
Alison Morrow was photographed at a rally in support of same-sex marriage in Belfast holding a placard that read, 'Irish Presbyterian Supports Gay Marriage'.
Her late father is Dr John Morrow, who was a Presbyterian chaplain at Queen's University and a leader of the Corrymeela community.
Ms Morrow said Presbyterians who supported same-sex marriage felt they are being sidelined, and revealed how the silence over attitudes towards gay people had affected her own family.
Hitting out at the judgmental attitude of many Church people to same-sex relationships, she said: "My Uncle Kenneth was gay and he died of Aids.
"My mother Shirley felt the great pain of mourning for her brother, and also more pain because she felt unable to tell people that he was gay and had died of Aids."
Both Alison's parents are now dead but she believes that they would have fully supported her decision to join the same-sex rally on Saturday.
"They both taught us about the importance of debate and of sharing our opinions.
"I know that my father John progressively changed his views about same-sex relationships. He became extremely tolerant and he was aware that sexual orientation is not a choice, and that when we exclude people because of their sexuality, that is very painful for them.
"He talked to me about such things, and he was always keen for the Church to remain open and inclusive."
Ms Morrow is a psychotherapist and a play therapist, and said she attended Saturday's rally because she has gay friends and has worked with gay and transgender people.
"I have great empathy for their life experience, and I am conscious of how many of them feel excluded from many areas of life.
"I want to support their right to be treated as equal members of society," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
Ms Morrow is married to Mark Rocks, a BBC engineer, and she is currently considering joining a Presbyterian church in Belfast.
She was formerly a member of Fisherwick Presbyterian Church, and has lived in Scotland, where she was a member of the Church of Scotland.
"It is hard not to be a Presbyterian when you have inherited from your parents a centuries-long tradition. I feel that I am a Presbyterian with every bone in my body, and my parents made me aware of the importance of sharing different opinions, and of the great dissenting tradition of Presbyterianism," she said. Ms Morrow is extremely critical of the current attitude of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, which opposes same-sex relationships on biblical grounds.
"I am aware of dissent among a number of committed, church-attending Presbyterians who feel that they are being silenced," she said.
"They believe that there is little room for debate within the Church on same-sex issues, and that people are expected to toe the party line. That goes very much against the dissenting tradition of Presbyterianism.
"I want the Irish Presbyterian Church to open up this debate rather than close it down. In Scotland there is not full consensus, but there is a great deal of diversity, and the Church of Scotland has managed to keep the channels of communication open, but the Irish Presbyterian Church is not succeeding in doing that.
"One of the reasons why I was able to join the same-sex rally on Saturday was because I am not currently a member of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
"I felt that I was speaking for myself."
She was also critical of the decision of the Irish Presbyterian Church to boycott the Scottish General Assembly in Edinburgh next year.
"This decision dismays me because it is very unhelpful at a time when we should all be moving forward and seeking more diversity," she said.
The 230,000-strong Presbyterian Church in Ireland is opposed to same-sex relationships on biblical grounds, and teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. At the General Assembly earlier this month, delegates voted by 99 to 84 not to send a representative to next year's Scottish General Assembly as that Church has agreed to ordain ministers in a same-sex relationship. The Irish Presbyterians said earlier that their Scottish counterparts had "moved away from the historic and biblical tradition". It is likely that this Irish boycott will apply to next year's Assembly.