'No concessions' in NI same-sex marriage laws says British government
THE British government has said "no concessions or special provisions" have been made for Northern Ireland in its forthcoming same-sex marriage laws.
It comes after an evangelical Christian group claimed the Northern Ireland Office had committed to "concessions" which would "protect free speech and religious liberty".
The north's first same-sex weddings are due to take place by Valentine's Day following legislation passed last year through Westminster.
On Thursday, the Christian Institute (CI) said it had received a letter from Secretary of State Julian Smith detailing a "range of legal changes".
The organisation had earlier expressed fears that Church ministers preaching against same-sex marriage could face prosecution under the north's laws on inciting hatred.
In his letter, Mr Smith confirmed that public order legislation would be amended to "ensure that mere criticism of same-sex marriage is not an offence".
He also outlined ways in which the north's provisions would replicate existing laws in Britain.
CI welcomed the letter and said it was "vital" that Northern Ireland's legislation "mirrors the law in Great Britain".
A government spokeswoman said regulations will "provide the equivalent protections in law in Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK".
"No concessions or special provisions have been made for Northern Ireland at the request of any particular groups," she added.
Solicitor Ciaran Moynagh, who has been involved in the Love Equality campaign to legalise same-sex marriage, said he was "bemused" by CI's public statements.
"They appear to be claiming they have won a concession from the SoS on behalf of their supporters. In reality however, the new law introducing same-sex marriage here exactly replicates the situation in England. This has been a shared goal all along," he said.
Mr Moynagh, of Belfast-based firm Phoenix Law, added: "Threat of legal proceedings against religious groups is fanciful."