Free speech, religious liberty to be protected when Northern Ireland same-sex marriage laws change


The Government has promised that some free speech and religious liberty protections will be put in place when Northern Ireland's marriage laws change this month.

It confirmed the provisions in a response to the Christian Institute after the organisation threatened legal action if protections were not in place when civil same-sex marriage becomes legal on January 13. 

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith confirmed that the public order law would be amended to make clear that criticising same-sex marrage is not an offence. 

Changes to the equality law will also protect religious bodies and staff from being sued in the event that they decline to take part in a blessing or other event to mark a civil same-sex wedding. 

Religious organisations that adhere to a traditional view of marriage and sexuality will also be free to dismiss staff members who enter into a same-sex marriage. 

Further legal changes are expected later in the year following a period of consultation to allow religious same-sex weddings.  The Christian Institute said it wanted to see provisions ensuring the protection of places of worship that do not wish to facilitate same-sex weddings.

Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at the Christian Institute, said: "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 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."

He continued: "It is also important that there is proper training and guidance for the police to ensure respect for freedom of speech on these issues.

"We don't want people using the police to try to punish those who believe in traditional marriage."

An NIO spokesman said: "The Government has laid regulations that will make same-sex civil marriage and OSCPs lawful from 13 January 2020, with relevant protections equivalent to those across the rest of the UK.

"We intend to consult on same-sex religious marriage and conversion entitlements in the coming weeks. Further regulations will then follow."