Orangeman is backed after attending daughter’s same-sex civil ceremony
A senior Orangeman who gave his daughter away in a same sex civil ceremony has received support from fellow members of the Loyal Institution.
Newly appointed Belfast Grand Master Spencer Beattie was pictured celebrating with his daughter Lesa and her partner at an emotional service in the Loughshore Hotel in Carrickfergus last Wednesday.
But, speaking three days after choosing to walk his daughter down the aisle to make her vows to the woman she now calls her "wife", the 68-year-old expressed fears that he could end up in trouble with the Orange Order - which strongly opposes same-sex marriage.
"I don't know if I'll get into trouble for going to the ceremony, but that's not up to me," he told the Sunday Life.
"I'm all for equality and people having the right to make their own choices."
The great-grandfather and avid Rangers fan refused to comment any further without first seeking advice from the institution, which has previously described same-sex unions as a "sign of moral decline".
The Orange Order, which in 2013 commended MPs who unsuccessfully opposed The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill during a Westminster vote, said: "This is a private family matter."
But last night a senior source in the institution, who declined to be named, said that Mr Beattie has nothing to fear.
"This is a father, who like any other, wanted to walk his daughter down the aisle and decided to be a part of her civil partnership ceremony," he said.
"There are no rules against what he has done so he certainly doesn't have to worry about repercussions in that regard."
The prominent Orangeman also said that "just because the institution opposes same-sex unions doesn't mean the Orange Order is homophobic".
"Spencer didn't set out to be a hero or to make a point and he and his family deserve some privacy," he added.
Another Orange Order member praised Spencer for proving that they "aren't all dinosaurs" and for courageously showing how much he loves his daughter.
A third member said: "As Spencer has rightly shown, he's a father first and Orangeman second."
But Rev Brian Kennaway, an Orangeman and author of a book on the Order, said he was unsure if Mr Beattie would escape the wrath of more fundamental members.
"Episodes like this again bring into question the moral and Christian understanding of the Orange Order in terms of its Christian faith," he said.
"It is, after all, a church-grounded and Bible-based institution formed on Christian principles and, as we know, the Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman."
Gay rights campaigner and Ulster Unionist councillor Jeff Dugdeon has come out in support of the Tyndale LOL 1689 member's public display of support for his daughter.
"It's heart-warming to see him walk his daughter down the aisle and know that it has not caused a crisis in his family," he said.
"It shows a real shift in attitudes and how Northern Ireland is changing for the better."
Mr Beattie, who was only elected as Grand Master of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast a fortnight ago, is well known for a series of hard-line speeches he made during the Twaddell Avenue stand-off, in which he called for members to be allowed to march past the Ardoyne shops.
The Shankill Road man was beaming with pride last week as he welcomed guests to the venue where Lesa and Melanie were both wearing white wedding dresses.
He laughed and joked as he mingled with assembled guests and posed for photographs with the bridal party, and watched the couple slice through their towering four-tier wedding cake.
The England cricket fan's delight stands in stark contrast with the views of other senior figures within the Orange Order who have long been outspoken in their criticism of members of the LGBT community.
Speaking in 2015, Fermanagh County Grand Master Stuart Brooker said gay people could not join the institution because it is a Christian organisation which believes that "homosexuality is wrong".
That doesn't mean we are anti-homosexuals, LGBT people or we hate people," he added. "I personally don't agree, I believe homosexuality is wrong because the Bible teaches me it is wrong."