Councillors ask for guidance on same-sex marriage issue

A MAJORITY of councillors on Mid & East Antrim Borough Council agreed to write to the Department of Finance seeking guidance on ‘what other alternatives have been considered’ in respect of the impact of changes in marriages/civil partnerships in Northern Ireland.

Minutes of behind-closed-doors discussions on the subject have now emerged.

The minutes said: ‘Ms (Anne) Donaghy (Council Chief Executive) referred to the recent advice obtained by Council with regard to the recent changes in Marriages/Civil Partnerships in Northern Ireland.

‘As the advice had been received prior to new regulations being introduced, Council had asked that renewed legal advice be sought.

‘Ms Donaghy reported that it had been confirmed that the previous legal opinion still stood in light of the new regulations in that Council would be entitled to oblige its Registrars to perform same-sex marriages and Council would not be indirectly discriminating against staff by asking them to perform this role.

‘The advice concluded that Council had a statutory duty to maintain an office for civic marriages and the new regulations did not provide exception for Registrars to refuse to marry same-sex couples if they had objections to doing so.

‘Ms Donaghy reminded Members that, in terms of religious ceremonies, the UK Government had published a consultation non same-sex religious marriage and the appropriate protections and also conversion entitlements in Northern Ireland.

‘The consultation period had commenced on 20 January and would run for a five week period. Comments were sought from Members.

‘Cllr (Timothy) Gaston (TUV) proposed that Council write to the Department of Finance requesting guidance. The change in law radically changed the employment duties of Council’s Registrars and, now that Stormont was operational, Cllr Gaston was of the opinion that Council should request their guidance, including thoughts regarding models adopted in different countries such as Australia.

‘Cllr (Christopher) Jamieson (TUV) seconded Cllr Gaston’s proposal and he requested that a Recorded Vote be taken.

‘A number of Members provided their views, following which a recorded vote was taken.”

The minutes show that 18 councillors were in favour of Cllr Gaston’s proposal with 14 against and one absention.

The Mayor, Cllr Maureen Morrow, declared the proposal carried and it was therefore agreed ‘That Council writes to the Department of Finance/Minister and the Committee seeking guidance/what other alternatives have been considered in respect of registration staff, with further information to be provided/considered in respect of the Australia model and consideration given as to what could be implemented in Northern Ireland’.

Last month, the first same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland took place between Robyn Peoples, from Belfast, and Sharni Edwards, from Brighton, at a ceremony in a hotel in Carrickfergus.

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