The General Register Office for Northern Ireland (GRO) has withdrawn a threat to churches in the Province after The Christian Institute intervened.
The GRO had written to places of worship threatening to ban them from performing all weddings if they did not indicate by 17 August whether or not they would conduct same-sex weddings.
The U-turn comes after the Institute first wrote to the GRO pointing out that the law requires places of worship to opt in to same-sex weddings, not opt out, and then demanded an apology and the withdrawal of the ultimatum.
This morning, The Christian Institute received a letter from the GRO stating, “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”.
[we] apologise unreservedly for this error
The letter follows a public statement issued over the weekend which also clarifies 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.”
Before the climbdown, the Institute’s Northern Ireland Officer, Callum Webster, said many church leaders had found the letter “highly intimidating”.
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute welcomed the GRO’s quick response.
“This is important as the GRO sets about reassuring places of worship that they can continue to carry out weddings – the union of one man and one woman – and do not need to re-register in order to ‘opt out’ of conducting same-sex weddings.
“It was a crass way to handle an issue that is highly controversial amongst the churches, the vast majority of which believe as a matter of deep doctrinal conviction that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
“The number likely to opt in is very small. In England, for example, 22,500 non-Anglican places of worship are registered for weddings and only 250 of those are registered for same-sex weddings.”