Religious groups attack calls for equal marriage in Northern Ireland

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Evangelical groups have attacked Labour’s calls for a referendum on equal marriage in Northern Ireland.

Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland yesterday (September 9) spoke out on the issue to back a referendum in the country.

Ivan Lewis, the MP for Bury South, said: “Ideally, there would be sufficient support in the Northern Ireland assembly to introduce legislation for same-sex marriage.

“This is currently not the case and as as in the Republic of Ireland I would propose a referendum be held which allows the people to decide.”

Conservative religious groups were quick to challenge Mr Lewis’ proposal – claiming that the Northern Ireland’s Stormont Assembly should have the final say on same-sex marriage.

“We feel that four democratic votes in the Assembly in three years is enough. We don’t need to see a referendum or another vote for some time,” a spokesman for the Northern Ireland Evangelical Alliance told Christian Today.

The group also took the chance to reiterate their anti-equal marriage stance.

“We believe there is value in retaining a distinct definition of marriage as between a man and a woman as a platform for flourishing.”

What that “value” is was not explained – however the group’s statement serves as further proof of the deep religious divisions that still exist in Northern Ireland.

The issue continues to be blocked in the country’s Assembly – with the governing Democratic Unionist Party blocking equality four times by filing a ‘petition of concern’ to veto marriage bills.

The DUP has also ruled out following in the footsteps of the Republic of Ireland – where the public voted overwhelmingly in favour of equality in a referendum earlier this year.

In an attempt to avoid further religious tensions, Mr Lewis said: “I respect the right of politicians to cite their faith as reason for their opposition to same-sex marriage.”

“I do not condemn or attack them as ‘bigots’ or ‘homophobes’. My difference with them is that in a democracy they are wrong to impose their religious beliefs on the legislative framework, which governs the rights of their fellow citizens.

“Naturally, legislation triggered by a yes vote would include provisions as in the Westminster legislation which ensure faith groups are not required to undertake any activity which they deem as contrary to their beliefs.”

However, it is not just faith groups that oppose Mr Lewis’ proposal.

LGBT support group The Rainbow Project, has said that it is opposed to the idea of a referendum – but only because they feel the Northern Irish Assembly should support equality through the country.

“We would prefer the legislation to go through the Assembly,” Gavin Boyd – a spokesman for the group – said.

“We don’t think people’s right to equal marriage should be in a public vote. This won’t be going away until we have equal marriage for people in Northern Ireland,” he added.

Since the referendum in the Republic of Ireland earlier this year, the DUP has faced mounting pressure to stop blocking progress on the issue.