LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Northern Ireland’s bishops have “welcomed” proposals that would not allow religious ministers to perform same-sex marriages against the teachings of their Church bodies, as well as protect the free speech rights of those opposed to same-sex unions.

The bishops’ remarks came in a UK government “consultation” on “Religious Same Sex Marriage,” after the territories ban on the practice was ended by the Parliament in London as part of what should have been a routine bill on the province. The same legislation also legalized abortion in Northern Ireland.

Although both same-sex marriage and abortion are now legal, Northern Ireland is not governed by the legislation on these issues which cover the rest of the United Kingdom.

Currently, same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland must be exclusively civil and cannot include religious elements such as hymns or Bible readings. The new legislation will open the door to religious same-sex marriages.

The “consultation” is a common practice in the UK to get feedback from the public on proposed legislation before it is enacted.

The Catholic bishops said they supported the so-called “triple lock” in the proposal to protect religious organizations, namely:

— officiants will only be able to solemnize same-sex religious marriage if the governing authority of the religious body they belong to has given its written consent to same-sex marriage.

— the legislation will make clear that religious bodies (and individual officiants) cannot be compelled by any means, including by the enforcement of a contract or a statutory or other legal requirement, to perform same-sex marriages or otherwise be involved in same-sex marriages.

— there will be equality law protections so that religious bodies and individual officiants do not unlawfully discriminate if they refuse to solemnize marriages because of the sex or sexual orientation of the couple.

“The Catholic Church holds as a central tenet of its Christian belief that Marriage is the permanent, life-long union of one man and one woman, open to the generation of new life. We believe that the family, based on marriage, provides the fundamental building block of society,” the bishops said in a statement.

The bishops also supported sections of the law that that said discussion or criticism of same-sex marriage will not of itself be a legal offence and “that people remain free to express views, including critical views, about same-sex ‘marriage’, so long as this is not done in a threatening, abusive or insulting way and is not intended to stir up hatred or arouse fear.”

“The Catholic Church, as part of its universal teaching, holds that every person should be treated with love, dignity and respect and that discussion of the often complex and deeply personal issues involved in this area should be conducted with the utmost sensitivity, understanding and care for those involved,” the bishops said.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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