Four Church Leaders (Ireland) – Church Leaders Meet [Northern Ireland] Minister to Discuss Sexual Orientation Regulations

20 Dec 2006






Senior Church Representatives from the Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Church of
Ireland and Methodist denominations met with [the Northern Ireland] Minister of
State Mr David Hanson yesterday, Tuesday 19 December, to discuss the Sexual
Orientation Regulations and how they apply to Churches.

Following the meeting, the Church Leaders issued the following statement today,
Wednesday 20 December.

We appreciated yesterday’s (Tuesday 19 December) opportunity to discuss with Mr
Hanson the implications of the Sexual Orientation Regulations. This follows an
earlier meeting with his officials in September during the consultation period.

In an open and frank discussion lasting about one hour we stressed that all our
Churches respect and would seek to protect the civil, political, social and
religious rights of all persons irrespective of sexual orientation and welcomed
progress on such an agenda.  However under the principle of equality the rights
and religious freedom of those with Christian belief must be similarly protected.

We welcomed assurances that the regulations would not impinge on the doctrines
and practices of our various denominations, including the right of teachers to
present Christian doctrine and morals in schools. We also noted the various
exceptions within the regulations for religious organisations.

However, these exceptions do not apply to individual Christians, nor are we
convinced that they cover all circumstances in which the Churches will have to
be guided by their doctrinal standards or the sincerely held convictions of a
significant proportion of their adherents.  We are concerned that the Courts
will be involved in deciding what is acceptable doctrine.  This, of course,
will not only apply to those with Christian belief but other faith groups also.

Also, we were not adequately assured that our concerns in relation to services
provided by our Churches as part of our Christian witness were fully met. These
include the provision of faith based adoption services, care of older people,
education and marriage counseling.  We welcome the invitation to discuss these
in greater detail with departmental officials.

We note that within the Westminster parliamentary process there will be some
limited debate and a vote on these regulations in the early New Year. We call
on our politicians to fully engage in this debate in order to ensure a balance
of rights for all, including the protection of freedom of religion and individual
conscience as part of a diverse and plural society in which everyone may feel
an equal member.

We also expressed concern over the short time given for consultation on proposed
legislation in Northern Ireland and that, although similar legislation in England
is being reconsidered, it will be imposed on Northern Ireland using direct rule
powers despite the many objections of churches and other groups.  We were assured
that when similar legislation in introduced in Great Britain any differences
between the regulations between there and Northern Ireland will be addressed.


20th December 2006     

Further information:

Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)