Homophobes assured they will not be prosecuted for blasting new marriage equality legislation

YESTERDAY (Thursday) I reported in a Freethinker post that the Christian Institute had embarked on some silly scaremongering exercise, claiming that laws protecting religious bigots from hate-speech prosecutions on the mainland would not be extended to the province.

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The institute’s Simon Calvert, above, deeply upset that marriage equality will be extended to Northern Ireland later this month, predicted that hostile preachers across the province would become more strident in their opposition to the move, and warned that they could be dragged from their pulpits and into courts to face charges of hate speech.

But solicitor Ciarán Moynagh, right, who has been involved in the Love Equality campaign to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland, said:

The new law is clear. Religious ministers of any creed are free to preach. Hate speech, of course, is a totally different thing. It has no place in churches or society as a whole anyway.

Moynagh, of Belfast-based firm Phoenix Law, said there has been:

 A full and frank debate around the introduction on same-sex marriage since 2012,  but it’s clear a massive majority here support it.

But today the institute claimed it had 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.

It 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 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.

A UK government spokesperson said that “relevant protections” coming into force in Northern Ireland on January 13 will be:

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.

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 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.