Northern Ireland has officially legalized same-sex marriage.
According to the Christian Post, starting Monday, Jan. 13, same-sex couples were able to register to marry in the country and those who were already married would be able to have their union recognized by the law.
England’s parliament passed the legislation last year to legalize both gay marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland.
The rest of the United Kingdom legalized gay marriage in 2014, and in July 2019, the United Kingdom government said that Northern Ireland’s then restrictive laws on abortion and gay marriage were out of compliance with human rights laws.
Christian leaders, however, say with the approval of same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland, they are worried about free speech.
“When same-sex marriage registration starts on 13 January another set of robust protections will be needed to protect those in Northern Irish society who disagree with same-sex marriage,” said Colin Hart, director of The Christian Institute, a nondenominational Christian charity.
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said that the legislation “is being amended to underline that mere criticism of same-sex marriage is not an offense.” He also said that equality law is also being amended to protect religious organizations and employees from “being sued for declining to take part in a blessing or other event marking a civil same-sex wedding.”
Meanwhile, some churches in Northern Ireland say they will still only conduct marriages between a man and a woman.
“The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord's teaching, that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side," a spokesperson for the Church of Ireland told the Belfast Telegraph.
The deputy clerk of the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly told reporters that the church would maintain “the scriptural basis of marriage” despite the law change.
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Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.