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Gay marriage rift forces former Alliance leader David Ford from church elder role

Former Alliance Party leader David Ford had appealed a decision to remove him as an elder at Second Donegore Presbyterian Church in Co Antrim. Brian Lawless, Press Association

FORMER Alliance leader David Ford has been removed as an elder at his church over his backing for same-sex marriage.

The South Antrim MLA was a ruling elder at the Second Donegore Presbyterian Church from almost 30 years until he was stood down in 2013 for what was to be a temporary period.

This was due to members of the rural Co Antrim congregation opposing Mr Ford’s party backing calls for gay marriage to be introduced in Northern Ireland.

However, the Antrim Guardian reported that a decision had been taken not to allow the former justice minister back into the role at the Co Antrim church.

The congregation was informed at the end of Sunday's service.

Mr Ford, who stood down as Alliance leader earlier this month after 15 years in the role, had appealed the ruling before being informed he would not be reinstalled.

Instead, he remains an elder within the wider Presbyterian Church “in good standing”.

A spokesman for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said the dispute had been a “difficult time” for all concerned, and confirmed Mr Ford’s “publicly stated views” on same-sex marriage had caused a rift between the MLA and fellow elders.

Mr Ford’s role as a politician allowed him “freedom of conscience” under church rules for members who “operate in a different sphere” such as politics.

The decision to remove Mr Ford as a ruling elder at Second Donegore was taken at an appeal hearing on October 3, the spokesman said, adding: “For the avoidance of doubt, as was implicit in the finding of the Presbytery Commission, Mr Ford remains an elder without charge in good standing of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, under the care of the Templepatrick Presbytery.”

Following the decision, Mr Ford said it caused “great sadness” to himself and his wife that church members “failed to act to promote healing and unity within our church, despite repeated requests from us over the last nine months”.

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