Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Orangeman Beattie defies Order's anti-gay stance and walks lesbian daughter down the aisle

Gay community praises new Grand Master as he attends civil ceremony ... but he could be in hot water with Order

By Ciaran Barnes

A TOP Orangeman has won praise from the gay community after he walked his lesbian daughter down the aisle at her same-sex civil partnership.

Newly-appointed Belfast Grand Master Spencer Beattie put his own deeply held religious views aside to celebrate with Lesa Beattie and her partner Melanie Atkinson at an emotional service in Carrickfergus.

The proud dad told Sunday Life yesterday: "I'm all for equality and people having the right to make their own choices."

Mr Beattie was pictured joking with daughter Lisa and 'wife' Melanie, who both wore white wedding dresses, outside the Loughshore Hotel last Wednesday ahead of them pledging their futures to each other.

But his participation could land him in hot water with the Orange Order which bans gay men and women from joining.

The organisation is also firmly opposed to same-sex civil partnerships and marriages which it has described as a "sign of moral decline".

But this did not seem to bother Mr Beattie, who told our reporter after an Orange Order parade through the centre of Belfast yesterday: "I don't know if I'll get in trouble for going to the ceremony, but that's not up to me.

"I'd like to take some advice before saying anything further."

Veteran gay rights campaigner Jeff Dugdeon, an Ulster Unionist councillor in Belfast, last night praised Mr Beattie's support of his daughter.

He said: "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.

"It shows a real shift in attitudes and how Northern Ireland is changing for the better."

Spencer Beattie, who is a member of Tyndale LOL 1869, was elected as Grand Master of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast two weeks ago.

The 68-year-old from the Shankill Road was prominent during the Twaddell Avenue stand-off, making a number of hard-line speeches calling for Orangemen to be allowed to march up the Crumlin Road past the nationalist Ardoyne area.

A great grandfather, he is an avid Rangers football and England cricket fan, and has a passion for model railways.

A beaming Mr Beattie was clearly having a good time at daughter Lesa's same-sex civil partnership, and could not keep the smile off his face as he mingled with guests.

At one point, he cheekily stuck his tongue out for photographs with the laughing bridal party taken in the hotel car park.

This was after he had greeted guests outside, warmly welcoming them into the reception party and laughing as his daughter Lesa and 'wife' Melanie cut their impressive four-tier cake.

Orange Order sources who tipped-off Sunday Life about the celebrations praised Mr Beattie for attending.

One said: "Fair play to Spencer, it proves we aren't all dinosaurs and shows how much love he has for his daughter.

"The Orange Order may have its rules, but these really don't matter when it comes to ensuring the happiness of your child.

"As Spencer has rightly shown, he's a father first and Orangeman second."

However Rev Brian Kenaway, a liberal Orange Order member and historian, believes Mr Beattie's participation in a same-sex civil partnership, even his own daughter's, could present him with problems.

He revealed the organisation's more fundamental members, particuarly in rural areas, will not be happy.

Rev Kenaway said: "Episodes like this again bring into question the moral and Christian standing of the Orange Order in terms of its Christian faith. 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."

Despite being contacted, no one from the Orange Order was available for comment.

As well as being opposed to same-sex civil partnerships and marriages, senior Orange Order figures have been scathing in their criticism of the gay community.

In 2015, Fermanagh County Grand Master Stuart Brooker said gay people could not join the institution because "homosexuality is wrong".

He added: "We're a Christian organisation and therefore we believe in what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong.

"That doesn't mean we are anti-homosexuals, LGBT people or we hate people. I personally don't agree, I believe homosexuality is wrong because the Bible teaches me it is wrong."

When gay marriage was legalised in England in 2013 the Orange Order said: "We commend all those MPs who voted against this bill. We regard this decision as further evidence of the departure from Christian standards in our nation and of moral decline."

Quoting the Bible, then deputy Grand Master Rev Alistair Smyth added: "From a Biblical point of view, we believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as evidenced by Genesis 2: 24, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh'.

cbarnes@sundaylife.co.uk

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