Support for church over stance on gay marriage

Cardinal Keith O'Brien talks after his sermon at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh thursday.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien talks after his sermon at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh thursday.

CHRISTIAN leaders in Northern Ireland have backed the Catholic Church in Scotland, after it said plans to legalise gay marriage had “strained” its relations with the Scottish Government.

The church opposes same-sex marriage, which the Scottish Government last month announced it plans to legalise.

The Scottish Government claimed Alex Salmond and Cardinal Keith O’Brien had an “entirely amicable” phone conversation on the issue at the weekend.

But the cardinal’s spokesman, Peter Kearney, said afterwards that “the relationship between the Cardinal and the Government is definitely strained as a result of [the Government’s] decision on [legalising] same-sex marriage”.

He added that there is “a feeling of deep disappointment in the Church... when the Government continually ignores all the concerns raised by the Church”.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Ireland yesterday came out in support of Cardinal O’Brien, saying Irish bishops had published a booklet in 2010, Why Marriage Matters, which “called for the protection of marriage and expressed concern about aspects of the ‘Civil Partnership Bill 1999’ which was being considered by Oireachtas Éireann at that time”.

He added that the bishops’ leaflet “reiterates the importance of the family as the natural primary and fundamental unit of society and therefore deserving of special protection by the State”.

Canon Ian Ellis, editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette, concurred. He said: “As far as the Church of Ireland is concerned, the General Synod of last May made it very clear that it understands marriage to be between one man and one woman. For that reason the Church of Ireland could not marry same-sex couples. I think it is important, nonetheless, to emphasise that the stance of the Church is not in any way intended to be hostile to gay people.”

A spokesman for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said yesterday it made clear its opposition to same-sex marriage in March when the Clerk of Assembly, Dr Donald Watts, wrote to the Prime Minister to express “strong support for the retention of the present legal definition of marriage as ‘the permanent and lifelong union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others’.”

Dr Watts said he was writing on behalf of the most representative body of the church, the general board, and that he was “repeating the accepted teaching of the Church”.

Callum Webster, of The Christian Institute in Northern Ireland, warned the issue is not confined to Scotland.

“The Government at Westminster has already said there will be implications for Northern Ireland if the definition of marriage is changed on the mainland,” he said. “It is disturbing to hear that the Scottish Government is ‘completely ignoring’ religious leaders who hold that marriage is the union of one man to one woman.”

But PA MagLochlainn, of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, disagreed.

“I think it is a tremendous pity that the top people in the Roman Catholic Church have got so hung up on marriage equality,” he said.

“Many people think the church should be more concerned with helping the poor people in the gutter and those who are starving in the world.”