Government’s dash to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland puts freedom of speech and religion in peril, warns The Christian Institute
This afternoon the House of Lords will debate how to impose same-sex marriage on Northern Ireland.
Lord Hayward’s amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, says the Government must use regulations to introduce same-sex marriage to the Province. It contains a power to protect free speech and religious liberty but this is entirely discretionary and there is no detail on how this might be applied.
Religious liberty group The Christian Institute is warning that the Bill could see Christians and others who express their views on marriage facing the full force of the law.
The Institute backed Northern Ireland’s Ashers Baking Co. in its four-and-a-half year battle against legal action from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI). The so-called gay cake case saw the ECNI pursue the family-run bakery through the courts when it declined to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage campaign slogan. In October 2018 the UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favour of Ashers.
The Bill has been fast-tracked by the Government and this afternoon will have its Report Stage and Third Reading in the House of Lords. Tomorrow (Thursday) it is expected to return to the Commons for consideration of amendments and a likely final vote.
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said:
“The Government is either utterly inept, or this is a deliberate attempt to sideline free speech and freedom of conscience.
“As it stands, same-sex marriage ‘must’ be imposed on Northern Ireland. But there’s no such requirement to protect those who disagree. Seismic cultural changes are being pushed through by back door regulations.
“In the rest of the UK free speech and religious liberty protections are on the face of the legislation. Here they rest entirely on the discretion of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Even if Karen Bradley wants to introduce them, any of her successors, of any political persuasion, could take a different view. There are no guarantees.
“It seems Westminster is intent on forcing same-sex marriage onto the people of Northern Ireland against their will and without giving them a say. To add insult to injury they may also find they have no protection when they choose not to endorse same-sex marriage, and no remedy when they are targeted for their views in the way that the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland targeted Ashers bakery.
“The people of Northern Ireland require no less protection than the rest of the United Kingdom under the Marriage (Same Sex) Couples Act 2013 and the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.
“This has been a constitutional outrage from the beginning. It has to stop here.”
Last Tuesday (9 July) MPs voted by 383 to 73 to impose same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland if there is no devolved government in place by 21 October. Lord Hayward’s amendment delays that to “on or before 13 January 2020”.
Same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in 2013. Under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, the first same-sex marriages took place on 29 March 2014. Same-sex marriage passed in Scotland in February 2014 and took effect on 16 December 2014.
Proposals to adopt same-sex marriage have been rejected five times by the Assembly at Stormont in recent years.