Alliance Party leader David Ford has been “treated harshly” by his church over his political support for gay marriage, his predecessor Lord Alderdice has said.
Mr Ford stood down temporarily as an elder at his church in Co Antrim ahead of a contentious vote on same-sex marriage in the Assembly today.
He stepped aside from his voluntary post at Second Donegore Presbyterian church near Templepatrick, which his family has attended for generations, amid controversy over his and his party’s support for gay marriage. Some people at the church are opposed to his position.
Defending Mr Ford, Lord Alderdice said yesterday that the party leader’s faith was very important to him and that this would be a difficult time for him.
“He is elected by the electors of his constituency to represent all their views and yet what’s been suggested, more than suggested, is that he has got to take a very particular line on a piece of legislation,” Lord Alderdice told the BBC yesterday. He added: “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.”
The Presbyterian Church has written to assembly members urging them to vote against today’s motion, tabled by Sinn Fein, which would legalise same-sex marriage. The Catholic Bishops have also urged Assembly members to vote against the motion. Last year, Assembly members rejected a proposal that same-sex couples should have the right to marry. But the Alliance Party voted in support of the legislation.
Today’s new motion has been brought by Sinn Fein MLA’s Caitriona Ruane, Barry McElduff and Bronwyn McGahan.
A controversial motion to legalise gay marriage is due to be debated in the Assembly today. Last year Assembly members rejected a proposal that same-sex couples should have the right to marry. However a new motion has been tabled by three Sinn Fein MLAs for debate today. The motion follows moves in the Republic of Ireland towards having a referendum on same-sex marriage.