Evangelical Alliance Ireland has controversially suggested that Christians should support a Bill that would extend the rights and privileges of marriage to homosexual couples who register their partnerships.
The suggestion has drawn fire from other evangelical groups.
The Civil Partnership Bill currently before the Irish Parliament would grant welfare and tax benefits on a par with marriage to homosexual couples who enter a civil partnership.
The Bill also contains new rights for cohabiting couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual.
Evangelical Alliance Ireland’s General Director, Sean Mullan, claimed in a statement: “The Government is seeking to legislate for greater justice and fairness for co-habiting couples, both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. As Christians we should support that stance.”
Evangelical Alliance Ireland is a distinct organisation from evangelical alliances in other countries such as the UK.
Granting marriage rights to homosexual liaisons is at odds with the views of many people in the Republic of Ireland.
The Alliance’s approach has been criticised by the Honorary Secretary of Aontas, previously known as the Association of Irish Evangelical Churches.
Pastor Paudge Mulvihill expressed “profound sadness” about the Alliance’s response to the Bill. He said: “Aontas remains opposed to the Civil Partnership Bill because it undermines the status of marriage.”
There are concerns that giving same-sex couples and temporary relationships the same status as marriage devalues the currency of marriage.
There are also concerns that the Bill would threaten the freedom of Christians who work as registrars.
Registrars who refuse to facilitate a same-sex civil partnership would face a €2,000 fine and/or up to six months imprisonment. There is no clause to allow freedom of conscience.
Evangelical Alliance Ireland accepts that there is a “possibility” that the new Bill will be used to force Christians to co-operate with ceremonies to which they have a conscientious objection – but claims that this is “unlikely” in reality.
In England, which allows civil partnerships, some registrars with religious convictions have resigned rather than register same-sex civil partnerships. Others have faced disciplinary proceedings.
Lillian Ladele, a long-serving registrar at Islington Council, asked to swap shifts so that she did not have to perform civil partnership registrations.
The Council decided that she had committed gross misconduct, failed to consider her for promotion, disciplined her and threatened her with dismissal.
An employment tribunal accepted Miss Ladele’s claims of discrimination and harassment, but that was overturned by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in December last year. Miss Ladele has appealed that judgement and a ruling from the Court of Appeal is expected before Christmas.