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Row over same-sex wedding ultimatum letter sent to NI churches

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Questions: Conor Murphy

Questions: Conor Murphy

Questions: Conor Murphy

A DUP MLA has said Finance Minister Conor Murphy has questions to answer over a U-turn over a same-sex marriage ultimatum to churches in Northern Ireland.

The General Registry Office (GRO) - part of Mr Murphy's Department of Finance - had written to churches telling them that if they did not indicate by August 17 whether they would perform same-sex marriages, they would be banned from conducting all weddings.

But after an outcry from churches, officials ditched the ultimatum and issued an unreserved apology.

In a letter sent on Friday to lobby group the Christian Institute, the GRO says "it was not and is not the intention to cancel registration of officiants and we are currently writing to all Churches to highlight the mistake".

It added: "We are currently writing to all churches to highlight the mistake and apologise unreservedly for this error."

And in a question to the Assembly, DUP MLA Jim Wells asked the Finance Minister how such a letter came to be sent.

In his written response, Mr Murphy said: "The General Register Office incorrectly advised that all registered churches must confirm what types of marriages they wish to carry out.

"This was an error as only new churches registering need to advise GRO of their position.

"The current registered churches must advise GRO if they wish to carry out same-sex marriages.

"All churches currently registered have automatically been opted out of same-sex marriage until GRO is advised differently.

"A letter of unreserved apology has been sent to all churches."

But the south Down DUP man - a strong critic of same-sex marriage legislation - said more questions needed to be asked of the minister.

"Who drafted this threatening letter to churches? Who approved it before it was sent? The letter caused huge offence to the church community - both Protestant and Roman Catholic," the MLA said.

"Did he (Mr Murphy) approve the letter? Did he or his Permanent Secretary see it before it was sent?"

The NI Assembly is now in recess, but, said Mr Wells, once it resumes, he will be asking the Finance Committee to investigate the matter.

"It was extremely high-handed. The department must remain neutral on moral issues.

"It's not the role of the Department of Finance to enforce the LGBT agenda on Christian churches."

Belfast Telegraph