Church of Ireland Bishop's backing for same-sex marriage welcomed
Gay equality campaigners have welcomed the first statement of support by a Church of Ireland bishop for the civil marriage of same-sex couples.
The Bishop of Cork, Dr Paul Colton, also said he hoped the Church would one day recognise same-sex marriages in religious ceremonies.
His comments come a month after Stormont rejected a motion calling for same-sex marriage to be allowed in Northern Ireland for the third time in 18 months.
Dr Colton told BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence programme that he believed the Church was not keeping up with the pace of change in society.
"The events in society are moving very rapidly and the Church is not at all up to pace with the debate," he said.
"I certainly support civil same-sex marriage.
"I also recognise that the Church of Ireland's definition of marriage is for itself and I adhere to that discipline... but that is not to say that everyone must be required to take the Church of Ireland's view of marriage."
Dr Colton conceded that he was part of a minority within the Church, but said he hoped fresh discussions can be started on the matter.
"Having said that, I'm also among those in the Church, and perhaps we're only a minority – albeit a significant one, that long to see the day when we can have a discussion – as we've had discussions over the years on all sorts of other issues – about the nature of marriage," he said.
"With a view, ultimately, at least to the blessing of same-sex couples following civil unions if not to their marriage in church, as is happening in other parts of the Anglican communion."
In 2009 Dr Colton made history when he apologised for his Church's treatment of gay and lesbian members in the past.
Then in 2012 Dr Colton, along with Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel, voted against a Church of Ireland synod motion which confirmed its position rejecting same-sex marriage. However, the motion was still passed.
Dr Richard O'Leary, the chairman of the Church of Ireland's pro-gay group, Changing Attitude Ireland, told the Belfast Telegraph he felt that the synod has become more liberal since 2012.
"We welcome the Bishop of Cork's support for the full inclusion of same-sex couples by both the State and our Church," he said.
"The bishop's acknowledgement of the hurt that the Church has inflicted on its gay and lesbian members is greatly appreciated, especially as it comes on the day we are holding services to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia."
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which has not introduced same-sex marriage laws.