Evangelical Alliance Ireland has issued a statement saying, “The government is seeking to legislate for greater justice and fairness for co-habiting couples, both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. As Christians we should support that stance.” The Alliance said that the bill “does not directly challenge the traditional understandings of marriage in Ireland.” “Same-sex couples are now a part of life in Ireland,” the statement said, calling Ireland a “radically changed society.”
“Co-habiting couples are a reality – this legislation seeks to deal with that reality from a legal perspective. We may disagree on the detail of the legislation but as followers of a just and compassionate God we can recognise the justice and fairness of providing some legal protection for the reality of both same-sex and opposite-sex cohabiting relationships,” said the statement.
The statement from Evangelical Alliance Ireland admitted that there is opposition to the bill by those who fear that it will infringe the rights of those who “disagree with same-sex civil partnerships” such as Christian civil marriage registrars. However, Sean Mullan, Director of the Alliance, said that while the bill’s wording “does seem” to present a possible threat to freedom of religious conscience, that fighting for religious rights on this “emotive and controversial issue” could be “misunderstood and unproductive.”
The UK-based Christian Institute reports that the Alliance’s stand has caused anger among other Evangelical groups.
The move was decried by Pastor Paudge Mulvihill, the Honorary Secretary of Aontas, previously known as the Association of Irish Evangelical Churches, who said it caused him “profound sadness.” Mulvihill said, “Aontas remains opposed to the Civil Partnership Bill because it undermines the status of marriage.”
Evangelical Alliance Ireland is a distinct organisation from evangelical alliances in other countries such as the UK.
The Christian Institute expressed concern that giving same-sex couples and temporary relationships the same status as marriage devalues the currency of marriage. There are also concerns that the Bill would threaten the freedom of Christians who work as registrars. Granting marriage rights to homosexual liaisons is at odds with the views of many people in the Republic of Ireland. Registrars who refuse to facilitate a same-sex civil partnership would face a €2,000 fine and up to six months imprisonment. There is no clause to allow freedom of conscience.
Evangelical Alliance Ireland accepts that there is a “possibility” that the new Bill will be used to force Christians to co-operate with ceremonies to which they have a conscientious objection – but claims that this is “unlikely” in reality.
In England some registrars with religious convictions have resigned rather than register same-sex civil partnerships. Others have faced disciplinary proceedings. Lillian Ladele, a long-serving registrar at Islington Council, asked to swap shifts so that she did not have to perform civil partnership registrations. The Council decided that she had committed gross misconduct, failed to consider her for promotion, disciplined her and threatened her with dismissal. An employment tribunal accepted Miss Ladele’s claims of discrimination and harassment, but that was overturned by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in December last year. Miss Ladele has appealed that judgment and a ruling from the Court of Appeal is expected before Christmas.