Belfast Telegraph

Gay church elder tells of hurt over dismissal following same-sex marriage

Steven Smyrl
Steven Smyrl

By Staff Reporter

A gay Presbyterian sacked as an church elder because he is in a same-sex marriage has spoken of his hurt at the decision.

Steven Smyrl was ordained as an elder at Christ Church in Dublin's Sandymount area 12 years ago.

Last month, he was told by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland that a church probe into his same-sex marriage had decided that he should be dismissed as a church elder with immediate effect.

"It was like a kick to the stomach," he told the BBC.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in the Republic of Ireland since 2015, though it is not yet permitted in Northern Ireland.

Mr Smyrl and his partner were married in Dublin late last year.

But the Presbyterian Church last year voted to deny full membership of the Church to anyone who was in a same-sex relationship.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Smyrl said yesterday he did not agree with that decision, but did not think it would have any impact on his life. "I live in the Republic of Ireland.

"I have a fundamental constitutional right to form a civil marriage with the person of my choice.

"As far as I was concerned, that was as far as it went," Mr Smyrl added.

"My marriage is a civil marriage: it isn't contracted in any church, never mind a Presbyterian church.

"So as far as I was concerned, it was no business of the Presbyterians to question the fact that I had married a person of the same sex," Mr Smyrl said.

But he was contacted by senior Presbyterian clergymen, who said concerns had been raised about his position as an elder.

He later learned a six-person church commission was to investigate and decide what action should be taken.

The commission decided that to be in a same-sex marriage was not compatible with being in 'ordained leadership' of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and dismissing him as a church elder with immediate effect.

"I was astounded, to be truthful," Mr Smyrl said.

"It was so hurtful.

"To be told that I was just dismissed, and to have had every argument I put to them over the six months utterly ignored.. it was really like a kick to the stomach."

In a statement, a Presbyterian Church in Ireland spokesman said last night: "As Mr Steven Smyrl has appealed to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's judicial commission against a decision of a commission of the Dublin and Munster Presbytery, it would obviously be inappropriate to comment on any matter related to that appeal, or indeed, any associated accusations."

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