Hotels, florists and photographers in Northern Ireland will be unable to refuse same-sex weddings

religious same-sex marriages Robyn Peoples and Sharni Edwards kiss each other after they became Northern Ireland's first legally married same sex couple on February 11, 2020 in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.

Wedding service providers in Northern Ireland will not be given an “opt-out” clause allowing them to refuse same-sex couples, it has been claimed.

The Northern Ireland Office is currently drawing up plans for regulations surrounding same-sex marriage, and has asked the public to give their views in a consultation, which ends on February 23.

In answer to a question about the consultation submitted by TUV leader Jim Allister, the government reportedly spelled out “in black and white” that although it envisions giving churches an opt-out clause for same-sex ceremonies, no such exemption will apply to marriage service providers or registrars.

The government says this is “in line with wider equality law… which requires that service providers do not discriminate on grounds of sex or sexual orientation”.

The progressive move was not welcomed by Allister, who previously supported the criminalisation of gay and bisexual men in Northern Ireland. He told the Newtown Abbey Times that it would be “intolerable and wrong” not to extend religious protections to people who make their money from hosting and serving weddings.

He warned that the government’s decision appears to “fly in the face” of the Supreme Court ruling over Ashers Bakery in 2018, which found that the Christian McArthur family running the firm were within their rights to refuse to make a cake bearing the words ‘support gay marriage’.

He believes it amounts to an effort “to strip people like the McArthur family of legal protection should they refuse to provide services for a same-sex marriage”, and also infringes upon “the civil, religious, human and employment rights of registrars”, who are wedding officiants employed by the local authority in a non-religious capacity.

Wedding service providers will be unable to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation (Envato Elements)

“Here we have a situation where people have taken up the position of registrars under one set of conditions and now those conditions have been radically changed,” he added. “If, as is often claimed, same-sex marriage was really about rights then this issue would have been addressed.”

Luckily for Allister, and unluckily for everyone else, he will still be free to criticise marriage equality all he likes. Last month the anti-LGBT+ Christian Institute won concessions from the government which will allow religious groups to speak against same-sex marriage and to sack staff who enter into a same-sex marriage.

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.