‘Intimidating’ letter to NI churches threatening to cancel right to conduct weddings is withdrawn

In the second major blunder in two days, the NI government last night withdrew a wave of “intimidating” letters sent to churches which warned they could be stripped of their right to conduct weddings.

Saturday, 25th July 2020, 7:01 am
Updated Saturday, 25th July 2020, 6:19 pm
Two groom figurines on top of wedding cake

The General Register Office – part of the Department of Finance (DoF) headed by SF figure Conor Murphy – insisted that following the legalisation of gay marriage, all churches had to declare whether they will offer same-sex marriages, opposite-sex marriages, or both.

Responses had to be in by Monday August 17 or else “it will be assumed that you and other members of the church no longer wish to be registered as officiants for any type of marriage... We will cancel the registrations on the officiant database accordingly, and you will not be able to carry out any marriage ceremonies”.

The Christian Institute descrbed it as “an ultimatum” which was both “threatening” and “intimidating” – noting it had arrived right in the middle of both the holiday season and the Covid pandemic, making responding on time harder.

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Then late on Friday, after being contacted by the News Letter, the DoF issued an abrupt U-turn.

A statement, from a register office spokesperson, said there had been “an error”.

It went on to say: “We apologise for this. We will be issuing an updated letter to all religious bodies to clarify that all religious officiants on the Registrar General’s current register are regarded as opted out of performing same sex marriages.

“No officiants will be removed from the register and any religious bodies wishing to perform same sex marriages must opt in by completing the form issued with the letter.”

The news followed on the heels of a disastrous announcement by the Department of Health on Thursday.

It had declared face masks were to be made mandatory in NI, only for that announcement to be withdrawn within minutes and replaced by a completely different one, saying they will not be compulsory after all for the time being.

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