The Orange Order has chosen not to comment on a “private family matter” after the Belfast grand master gave his daughter away in a same-sex civil partnership service.
Spencer Beattie, 68, walked his daughter Lesa down the aisle last Wednesday and gave her away to partner Melanie Atkinson in the civil ceremony at the Loughshore Hotel in Carrickfergus.
Mr Beattie’s actions – which are at odds with the Orange Order’s stance on same-sex marriage – were brought to light in an article in this week’s Sunday Life.
When stopped at an Orange Order memorial parade in Belfast on Saturday by a reporter from the Sunday Life Mr Beattie is reported to have said: “I’m all for equality and people having the right to make their own choices.”
He told the newspaper he did not wish to make any further comment.
The Orange Order confirmed Mr Beattie would not be commenting any further on what it described as a “private family matter”.
The Orange Order also said it would not be making any comment on the story.
In the past the organisation has voiced its opposition to same-sex marriage.
In 2013, when Westminster voted in favour of gay marriage, Deputy Grand Master Rev Alistair Smyth described it as a further sign of “moral decline”.
Two weeks ago Mr Beattie – a former deputy county grand master and a member of Tyndale LOL 1869 – was elected as the new grand master of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast.
Yesterday afternoon on Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme, former assistant grand master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, David McNarry, said that Mr Beattie made the decision to walk his lesbian daughter down the aisle “as a loving father”.
“In the circumstances in which Spencer found himself I’d like to think I’d do the same,” said Mr McNarry, who added that he “consistently voted against equal marriage” as an MLA.
“Orangemen are free men – free to make their decisions and to put themselves in a position where they’ll do right by their family bearing in mind they are members of a very big family in the Orange institution itself,” he added.
Commentator Ruth Dudley Edwards said: “Within my experience of Orangemen I would be very surprised if the vast majority didn’t think he’d done the right thing.”
She said the Orange Order was “a very family-oriented organisation”.