Belfast Telegraph

Presbyterians 'dismayed' over marriage and abortion law changes

Opposed: Rev Dr William Henry
Opposed: Rev Dr William Henry
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has expressed its "deep disappointment and dismay" after MPs backed plans to reform same-sex marriage and abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

This week the House of Lords agreed to revised proposals that mean the law could change here by early 2020.

The Presbyterian Moderator, the Rt Rev Dr William Henry, hit out at the move and said that only locally elected MLAs should get to decide on the matter.

"This legislation blatantly disregards our deeply held Christian values which for centuries have provided a positive and cohesive framework for the protection of individuals and the benefit of society at large," he said.

"We will continue to speak out in particular for the rights of unborn children who are among the most vulnerable in our society, and to encourage support and compassion for those expectant mothers who find themselves in difficult circumstances."

He added that many questions remained over the implementation of the Bill, including what protections "if any" were included. "We, therefore, call on the Government to publish its legislative proposals with the utmost urgency to allow adequate time for local consultation and amendment within the restrictive timescales, before regulations are laid in the Houses of Parliament."

The Presbyterian Church faced controversy last year after it decided to deny full membership to gay people and not to allow their children to be baptised.

It was also decided to cut ties with the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, which has a more liberal position on same-sex marriage.

Labour MP Conor McGinn had first introduced a liberalising of the law amendment to a Bill which was supposed to delay new Assembly elections, giving Stormont parties a chance to reach agreement after two-and-a-half years of political deadlock.

His proposal was overwhelmingly backed in the House of Commons, and said the Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley would have to introduce the legislation on same-sex marriage and easier access to abortion if Stormont was not restored by October 21.

Tory Peer Lord Hayward, who founded the Kings Cross Steelers gay rugby club, then passed an amendment in the House of Lords to delay the introduction of same-sex marriage until January 13, 2020. He said this would give more time to make the necessary arrangements and give protection to religious groups from legal challenges if they do not wish to marry same-sex couples.

Former First Minister David Trimble also supported the change in the House of Lords after revealing his daughter was in a same-sex marriage.

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