Religious bigots – sorry, we mean critics – will be free to attack same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland under new law

Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute

An anti-LGBT+ Christian group has reportedly won concessions from the government which will allow for criticism of marriage equality and will give religious groups the power to sack staff who enter into a same-sex marriage.

The Christian Institute said that the government’s Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has committed to protecting and emboldening homophobes through a series of legal measures, a day after it threatened legal action if such protections were not brought forward.

The group on Friday, January 3, said that Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith has written to government lawyers to raise a number of legal changes designed to underline that “mere criticism of same-sex marriage is not an offence”.

The move will reportedly protect religious groups that dismiss staff who enter into same-sex marriages, and will ensure that religious bodies can’t be sued for declining to support same-sex weddings.

The government will reportedly also ensure that legal documents such as wills are not forced to include same-sex marriage where that was not the intention.

Northern Ireland changes ‘equivalent to those across the rest of the UK’.

A UK government spokesperson told PinkNews that regulations coming into force in Northern Ireland on January 13 “provide the equivalent protections in law in Northern Ireland to England and Wales.”

“This includes relevant protections in relation to freedom of expression,” they added.

Ciaran Moynagh, a solicitor who specialises in human rights, told PinkNews that the changes as reported have always been included in the same-sex marriage regulations.

He added that regardless of the changes, “criticism of same sex marriage would unlikely ever amount to an offence, and that is true given the full and frank debate we have witnessed in Northern Ireland for years.”

New NI guidance will protect same-sex marriage criticism in schools.

Smith is reportedly also in discussion with equalities bodies in Northern Ireland with a view to giving employers and schools guidance on same-sex marriage, News Letter adds.

This guidance will reportedly state that all beliefs and opinions about same-sex marriage are to be respected in the workplace and in schools.

Additional changes to the law will also be needed to protect ministers and places of worship, Christian Institute added, stating that most will not want to take part in same-sex weddings.

Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs at Christian Institute, told News Letter: “We are grateful that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has recognised the validity of the issues we have raised and has acted to address each of the areas of concern that we have about same-sex civil weddings.

“We are consulting with our lawyers to ensure that these changes go far enough. We will be monitoring closely to ensure that the guidance needed to protect freedom of speech and conscience in schools and workplaces is clear and robust.”