The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) is failing to recognise serious concerns about freedom of expression regarding the introduction of same-sex marriage, The Christian Institute has said.
The NIO was warned of possible legal action over the lack of protections for churches and teachers who disagree with same-sex marriage. It has now said it will carry out a consultation, if agreed by an incoming Government.
However, the consultation will be limited to religious same-sex services. It will not provide the same free speech protections for school children, teachers, employees and charities currently in place in the rest of the UK.
Westminster politicians voted in July to impose same-sex marriage on Northern Ireland from 13 January, with the first services being able to take place on 14 February.
With just seven weeks until the January deadline, there is now insufficient time to hold a wider public consultation.
As a result, the new law will be ushered in without the religious liberty and freedom of speech protections available in Great Britain, leaving many at risk of falling foul of the law.
Freedom of speech
The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director for Public Affairs Simon Calvert said: “Sadly, the Government has failed to grasp the scope of what needs to change, and seems unwilling to delay this legislation until accommodation can be made to protect the rights of those who disagree with same-sex marriage.
“What is needed is a clear guarantee that all the protections in GB will be mirrored in Northern Ireland.
“The desperate attempt to make same-sex weddings available by Valentine’s Day is putting PR ahead of free speech.”