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Northern Ireland pastor demands right for same-sex couples to hold religious weddings

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Steve Ames

Steve Ames

Julian Smith

Julian Smith

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Steve Ames

A Co Antrim church has criticised the new same-sex marriage arrangements, as couples who wish to marry in a religious ceremony are currently "being denied the right to do so".

Steve Ames - the pastor of Harbour Faith Community in Carrickfergus, which campaigned for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland - claimed that any LGBT couples planning to wed before an upcoming consultation on the new law is completed are not allowed to include hymns, Bible readings, prayers or blessings.

Nor will they be permitted to marry in a church building, he said.

Mr Ames explained that, as he is a religious celebrant, he cannot currently marry same-sex couples while civil and humanist celebrants may do so.

A law to legalise same-sex marriage here was passed by Westminster in July and came into force in October.

Secretary of State Julian Smith said the first gay marriage is expected to take place by Valentine's Day this year.

In an open letter to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and other government agencies, Mr Ames said while he would be delighted to perform same-sex marriages in a religious context, he cannot do so until the conclusion of the upcoming consultation.

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"Along with many others, we were pleased to see that marriage equality has been introduced, at least in part, in Northern Ireland," he said.

"We say 'in part' because we note with some dismay that same-sex couples who wish to marry in any kind of religious ceremony are still being denied the right to do so.

"By extension, entire faith communities are being denied the right to celebrate and affirm same-sex marriages among their own congregants, whilst those seeking civil or humanist weddings are facing no such embargo."

Mr Ames criticised the NIO on its "vague commitment" to hold the consultation later this year and asked what gave public servants the right to deny citizens religious freedoms.

"Christians and other people of faith want marriage equality too, without the unnecessary and arbitrary delay currently being imposed on their religious freedoms," he said. "Until then, we continue to call on our government to do the right thing and fulfil their mandate to serve the public fairly and evenly, without the discrimination currently being imposed on faith communities with regard to marriage equality," he added.

A spokesperson for the government stated that further regulations on same-sex religious marriage "with the associated protections" will follow after the public consultation which will "launch shortly".

"The consultation will seek views from religious bodies, other stakeholders and individuals on how we enable same-sex religious marriage in Northern Ireland, and how we protect those religious organisations that do not wish to solemnise such marriages," the spokesperson said.


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