NI law changes to protect same-sex marriage dissenters from prosecution

The Northern Ireland Office will introduce a raft of changes to protect critics of same sex marriage from prosecution.

The Christian Institute had raised concerns only last week about free speech and religious liberty after marriage is redefined in law.

Public law specialist Ivan Hare QC found the threshold for prosecution for incitement to hatred was “substantially lower” in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales.

The Institute’s deputy director Simon Calvert said he expects many churches to preach in support of traditional marriage and doesn’t want the police using public order law to punish ministers for preaching the bible and arrest them for what they say from the pulpit.

The Secretary of State Julian Smith has now said that legislation is being amended to underline that mere criticism of same-sex marriage will not be an offence, and to ensure religious bodies cannot be sued for declining to support same-sex weddings.

The changes will also protect religious groups that dismiss staff who enter a same-sex marriage.