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Love cheat minister urges people to vote yes in Ireland's gay marriage referendum

By Rebecca Black

Published 02/05/2015

Rev Leslie Stevenson
Rev Leslie Stevenson
Rev Tracey McRoberts, who he had a relationship with when she was a parishioner

A vicar from Belfast who had an inappropriate relationship has waded into the same-sex marriage debate by urging voters in the Irish Republic to vote yes in a forthcoming referendum.

Rev Leslie Stevenson quit his post in Donaghadee after ending the relationship with parishioner Tracey McRoberts, which he had been conducting despite being engaged to the woman who became his second wife.

He moved to the south shortly after in 1999 and climbed the ranks of the church, being offered the post of Bishop of Meath and Kildare in 2013.

The minister has now given his support to a letter signed by dozens of his clerical colleagues urging a yes vote in the referendum due to take place in the Republic over same-sex marriage.

Ireland will make history on May 22 by holding the world's first national referendum on the issue.

The subject has also been dominating headlines in Northern Ireland recently following controversial comments by South Down MLA Jim Wells that a child is "far more likely to be abused or neglected in a non-stable marriage situation, gay or straight".

Just two days later, Mr Wells was involved in an argument with a lesbian couple while canvassing for the General Election. He has since resigned as Health Minister.

In the wake of those comments, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called for a referendum on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Rev Stevenson is just one of 43 signatories to a letter from Church of Ireland clergy that argues a yes vote will contribute to a "fairer and more truly equal Ireland".

The letter clarifies that the clergy who have signed act as individuals who "realise marriage is based on the values of love and commitment".

It goes on: "This is the case for heterosexual and same-sex couples, whether the marriage involves children or not.

"We believe that justice and equality for all are fundamental Christian, biblical principles.

"We believe that for too long LGBT people have suffered discrimination and injustice in Ireland, and that a yes vote will be a contribution to a fairer and more equal Ireland."

The letter concludes: "We respect the right of all people to vote according to their conscience. For the reasons we have given, and many more, we intend to vote yes in the forthcoming referendum on equal marriage."

Two years ago, the woman Rev Stevenson had a relationship with broke her 15-year silence by telling the Belfast Telegraph that she had been deceived.

Ms McRoberts stressed that she was divorced before the relationship began and did not know that Rev Stevenson was engaged.

It is understood the couple were in a relationship for a number of months in 1998 before the reverend informed Ms McRoberts that he was getting married in a few days' time - to someone else.

The relationship is believed to be why Rev Stevenson turned down the opportunity to become Bishop of Meath and Kildare.

It was at this point - in 2013 - that Ms McRoberts went public.

"I ended the relationship immediately on discovering he had a fiancée some four days before his second marriage took place," she said.

"So the 'inappropriate' nature of the relationship was on his part alone, and it is the reason why he states he believes he fell short of pastoral expectations."

Ms McRoberts is now a minister herself at St Matthew's Church of Ireland in the Shankill Parish.

A spokesman for Rev Stevenson said he did not wish to comment any further on the marriage referendum than what was in the letter.

Background

Church of Ireland minister, the Rev Leslie Stevenson, is originally from Belfast. He was ordained in 1983 for the curacy of St Mark's, Dundela, before moving to Donaghadee in Co Down. It was here that he had a relationship with then parishioner Tracey McRoberts while he was engaged to be married to his second wife, Ruth. Rev Stevenson ended the relationship in 1998 just days before his wedding. In 1999, he moved south of the border to Kildare and in 2008 he was appointed a Canon of Meath and Kildare.

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