Threat to NI church weddings withdrawn after CI pressure
The General Register Office (GRO) for Northern Ireland has withdrawn its threat to church weddings after pressure from The Christian Institute.
The GRO had written 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. Despite this being the summer holiday season, they were given just a few weeks to respond to the ultimatum.
Last week The CI’s in-house lawyer, Sam Webster, wrote to the GRO, pointing out that the law allows places of worship to opt in to same-sex weddings – it does not require them to opt out.
On Friday we issued a public demand for an apology and the withdrawal of the ultimatum. Over the weekend the GRO responded with a statement to The Newsletter calling its letter “an error”:
“We apologise for this. We will be issuing an updated letter to all religious bodies to clarify that all religious officiants on the Registrar General’s current register are regarded as opted out of performing same sex marriages.
“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.”
This morning, The Christian Institute received a letter from the GRO stating, “we are currently writing to all churches to highlight the mistake and apologise unreservedly for this error”.
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, said:
“We are grateful to the GRO for responding to the concerns about this ultimatum and for promising to put the matter right. I am sure churches will welcome the apology. 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.”
“Quite how this letter came to be issued in the first place is a question which has yet to be answered. 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.”