A FORMER Alliance Party deputy leader has said that if he was still a member of the party he would feel that he would have to leave over its endorsement of gay marriage.
Seamus Close, who was an MLA for Lagan Valley and a Lisburn councillor, hit out at the party’s weekend decision to support same-sex marriage.
Alliance leader David Ford has said that the whip would not be used to enforce the policy on those who disagree, and Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn has already spoken out to say that he cannot support the policy.
Speaking on Monday, Mr Close – who himself caused controversy within Alliance when he and party colleagues in Lisburn opposed the use of a council suite for civil partnerships seven years ago – said that he had not been a member of the party since that time.
He told BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme: “If I were still now a member of the Alliance Party I would find my personal position in great difficulty; I would feel that I couldn’t be a member of a party that had that as a policy.
“I was a party stalwart for many, many years and I would always have supported party policy and that’s why [one of] the founders of the Alliance Party, the late great Oliver Napier, insisted on conscience being a vital issue.
“Because we were a liberal party and a many-faceted party, to enable people from all walks of life, all beliefs and all attitudes to be part of that broad church, there had to be that vision of a conscience issue.
“But a matter that went through party council and was voted on accordingly became party policy . . . [if still a member] I would have felt that in all conscience I couldn’t have retained my position.”
Meanwhile, an umbrella group which claims to represent two million evangelical Christians across the UK has said that it is “disappointed” by Alliance’s decision.
Writing in Tuesday’s News Letter, Evangelical Alliance’s Northern Ireland director, Peter Lynas, says that the policy will unsettle Christian supporters of the Alliance Party.
The Alliance motion said that the party would only support same-sex “civil marriage” if there were “robust” legal protections to safeguard churches performing “religious” marriage.
But Mr Lynas, a barrister, dismissed Mr Ford’s distinction between civil and religious marriage as “a myth” and said that “legal opinion in the rest of the UK suggests that the current proposals will be challenged. The European Court is likely to rule it is illegal to refuse to carry out same-sex ceremonies where a country has adopted same-sex marriage”.
He added: “On a practical level, the majority of Christians who don’t support the redefinition of marriage will ask what difference this policy makes.
“Can you be an MLA for the party and oppose gay marriage the way David Ford did just a few years ago? The answer appears to be ‘yes’, but if that is the case, why have a policy?
“We hope Alliance MLAs will follow their conscience and support marriage.”