The General Register Office for Northern Ireland (GRO) has written to churches in the Province to confirm that they are not at risk of being stopped from performing wedding ceremonies.
It recently wrote to places of worship threatening to deregister them for all weddings if they did not fill in a form about whether they wanted to conduct same-sex weddings. After The Christian Institute intervened, the GRO admitted it had made a mistake.
The new letter to churches states, “it was not and is not our intention to cancel registration of current officiants and we apologise unreservedly for this error”.
The U-turn came after The Christian Institute’s in-house lawyer, Sam Webster, informed the GRO that if places of worship wish to conduct same-sex weddings, the law only requires them to opt in, not opt out.
After demanding an apology and the withdrawal of the ultimatum, on Monday the Institute received a letter from the GRO apologising and promising to contact “all churches to highlight the mistake”.
[we] apologise unreservedly for this error
A public statement issued last weekend clarified that: “No officiants will be removed from the register and any religious bodies wishing to perform same sex marriages must opt in by completing the form issued with the letter.”
The Institute’s Northern Ireland Officer, Callum Webster, said many church leaders had found the letter “highly intimidating”.
One Baptist pastor told the CI that the letter was “a swift answer to prayer for which we praise God”.
Another minister in Co. Antrim said it “clarified the situation” and expressed relief that “the previous letter has been withdrawn”.