Presbyterian church bans blessing of gay couples
Presbyterian ministers in Ireland were today banned from giving church blessings to gays and lesbians who have gone through civil partnerships.
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church meeting in Belfast passed a motion directing ministers in its churches on either side of the border not to carry out blessing of gay couples.
In the next breath the Assembly went on to order an investigation into the extent of homophobia in the church.
Delegates to the Assembly passed a motion proposed by the General Board of the church which declared marriage had been ordained by God to offer lifelong companionship in a committed relationship of a man and a woman.
It added: "While the church would wish to be supportive and welcoming to people of all sexual orientations, it believes that the sexual act should be practised in a committed heterosexual relationship. That is what makes marriage unique."
It decision was in stark contrast to the Church of Scotland which last month agreed to allow its ministers to bless civil partnerships.
After voting to say no to blessing gay partnerships, the Presbyterians also decided to investigate the "nature and scope of homophobia" within the church and to report to the next General Assembly in 12 months time "with a view to developing more sensitive and effective pastoral care."
Former Moderator, Dr Ken Newell, said: "Because gay people are part of our families, churches, work-teams and friendship circles, we need to cherish them, just as we do other people."
He added: "In our churches there is an underlying issue of homophobia and even homohatred that we need to examine."
Backing the call for greater understanding of gays and lesbians, the Rev Simon Henning said: "Sadly homophobia is a reality for tens of thousands of people in Britain and Ireland.
"People have been murdered because of homophobia. People have contemplated suicide, in fact 25 per cent have made a serious attempt because of homophobia. People suffer depression and other mental illnesses because of homophobia."