Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

18.39 10 Sep 2020


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A Church of Ireland cleric says he should be given the choice to officiate marriages for same-sex couples, saying he believes the Church's current stance is "homophobic".

Rev Andrew Rawding -  a minister in Coalisland, Tyrone - says he believes the current approach is "turning young people away in their droves" from the Church.

A decision to change the definition would be up to the church's General Synod, which meets annually and in 2012 voted to affirm the definition of marriage.

Church of Ireland bishops also considered the issue in 2018, but said their stance 'remains unchanged' - saying "marriage may be solemnised only between a man and a woman".

However, they pledged to continue listening and to have respectful discussions on the issues.

Rev Rawding told The Hard Shoulder that he has to turn same-sex couples away if they approach him looking to get married.

He said: "The Church of Ireland doesn't formally recognise their relationship as being one that God honours.

"The most I could do is perhaps say informal pastoral prayers for them.

"I personally think it's an inequality. I think it's discriminating against same-sex couples.

"The idea that same-sex couples cannot love each other [...] like a heterosexual couple... I just think it's nonsense."

The clergyman says he and other ministers need to be given the opportunity to choose to conduct a wedding for "lovely people who love each other, and who want God to be involved".

'Clear prejudice'

Rev Rawding suggested there's a need to offer same-sex marriage, rather than "being accused of redefining or revising heterosexual marriage".

He observed: "At the moment, perhaps the basis for the opposition is we don't have something on paper that we've all agreed on.

"I think my concern is that this is clear prejudice - I would even describe it as a stance which is homophobic.

"I think there's fear from traditionalists... I think there's fear from people within their families... I even think there's an issue of fear of the impact on people's own sexuality. They like the current situation which keeps them safe."

He stressed everyone must be kept safe emotionally, psychologically and spiritually - but the Church continuing to hold the current stance is doing "serious harm to people's well-being".

Rev Rawding also rejected a suggestion that this is a case of secular society vs the Church.

He said: "At the heart of the Gospel is love. The more that the Church promotes love and encourages love between people, surely the better it's going to be for the Church.

"I think this current stance - whether it's by the Church of Ireland or other churches - is turning young people away in their droves.

"They look at their friends - they accept their friends just as they are. They look at the Church and think 'you're stuck in the dark ages'".

Main image: File photo. Picture by: Brian Summers/Zuma Press/PA Images

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