Same-sex marriage is now legal in Northern Ireland, sparking concern among religious and conservative leaders in the Christian-majority country.
As of Jan. 13, same-sex couples are able to register to marry in the country, and those who are already married will have their union recognized by law, according to the BBC.
Those who already have civil partnerships are not able to convert to a marriage.
The move marks the implementation of legislation passed through Westminster last year, which legalized both abortion and gay marriage. The implementation of the legislation brings the province in line with the rest of the United Kingdom, where gay marriage has been legal since 2014.
In July, the U.K. government declared that Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion and gay marriage were out of compliance with human rights regulations, and would have to change if the region’s own government didn’t intervene, The New York Times reported.
The Northern Ireland Office is set to begin a consultation later this year about converting civil partnerships and the role of churches in same-sex marriages. The Protestant population is roughly equal to the Catholic population in the country.
Last week, The Christian Institute expressed concern that the new law “could get in the way of free speech and debate about gay marriage.”
It warned the Northern Ireland Office that it would seek legal action unless citizens receive “clear protections for free speech, written into public order law, just like they were in England and Wales before gay marriage was introduced there.”
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said that “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”.
In response, Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith stated that “Public Order legislation is being amended to underline that mere criticism of same-sex marriage is not an offense, Irish News reported.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leah MarieAnn Klett