The Bible, Gay Marriage and the Disaster on Donegall Street

According to the Royal Black Institution’s website, it is a thoroughly Scriptural organisation. The first point of its Mission Statement is to “Study Holy Scripture in order to understand the Christian faith”. The same website states that “its foundations [are] based firmly on scriptural truths and the propagation of the Christian Reformed Faith”.

Speaking at an entirely peaceful and orderly RBI demonstration in Plumbridge, the Sovereign Grand Master of the Black, Millar Farr, invoked Scripture as the basis for his opposition to marriage equality. “In God’s law there is no provision for same-sex marriage,” he said. “Holy scripture is quite clear on the subject – marriage is between male and female only.”

Meanwhile, 60 miles away, Belfast Black Grand Master William Mawhinney was, quite literally, tearing up the Parades Commission’s determination that no music should be played in Upper Donegall Street at Saturday’s Black parade. As Stephen Glenn has noted, under the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 it is a crime to incite other people to disobey a ruling of the Parades Commission.

Immediately following this, bands accompanying the Last Saturday demonstration deliberately and wilfully broke a Parades Commission ruling that no music should be played passing St. Patrick’s Church. Stewards enthusiastically encouraged this. The Young Conway Volunteers band, quite rightly banned from that part of the parade after its antics on The Twelfth, was given a rapturous reception and a virtual guard of honour as it broke the law.

What does this have to do with Scripture? Writing to the early Christian community in Rome, St. Paul took the view that obedience to the government was an absolute, unbendable, duty. Governments, he argued, were instituted by God and those who rebelled against the government were rebelling against God, and thoroughly deserved whatever punishment they received.

I’m not usually one for quoting long passages on Scripture on secular websites, but it’s worth reading this one in the light of the flagrant and premeditated law-breaking at the weekend by a bunch of self-professed Bible believers. The reference, for those interested, is Romans 13:1-6.

Every person must submit to the authorities in power, for all authority comes from God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him. It follows that anyone who rebels against authority is resisting a divine institution and those who resist have themselves to thank for the punishment they will receive. Governments hold no terrors for the law-abiding but the criminal. You wish to have no fear of the authorities? Then continue to do right and you will have their approval, for they are God’s agents working for your good. But if you are doing wrong, then you will have cause to fear them; it is not for nothing that they hold the power of the sword, for they are God’s agents of punishment bringing retribution on the offender. That is why you are obliged to submit. It is an obligation imposed not merely by fear of retribution but by conscience.

I believe there must be prosecutions under the Public Processions Act for Saturday’s actions. Without them, the entire edifice of parades management in Northern Ireland will be blown apart and we will revert to the status quo ante, where the police are left as piggy-in-the-middle making decisions based on which side, paraders or protestors, can summon the greatest force on the day. Anyone prosecuted needn’t pretend to be martyrs to their faith, particularly if their faith is of the conservative Protestant variety. St. Paul’s message on this is clear – you broke the law, you therefore rebelled against God, and you should man up and take whatever punishment the State chooses to deal out to you.

Now, personally, I think St. Paul blew this particular call. It was right for Christians in Apartheid South Africa to disobey the laws of an unjust state (incidentally, the people who designed and operated apartheid were conservative Evangelical Protestants who claimed Scriptural warrant for doing so). It was right for Christians in Nazi Germany to plot to assassinate Hitler, although he was the legally appointed Chancellor, and it is only a pity they didn’t succeed. It was right for Christian slaves in the American South to rebel against their ‘owners’, and right for Christians to operate the Underground Railroad in defiance of what was then US Federal Law.

I can see why St. Paul wanted to encourage members of a sect, extremely vulnerable due both to its tiny size and its refusal to submit to the Imperial cult, to be good Roman subjects and take advantage of the potential freedom offered by a multi-faith Empire and the security offered by the Pax Romana. Paul remained, in all his writings, a loyal, indeed proud, Roman citizen. He also was keen to ensure that Christians were of unimpeachable character, a living advertisement for their faith. At that point, the mid 50s AD, the Church was of little interest to the authorities anyway. But obedience to the government of the day as an absolute guiding principle? That was pretty much blown apart even while Paul was still alive, with the first great persecution of the Church under Nero.

Like the overwhelming majority of Christians, now and since the beginning of the Church, I don’t believe the Bible is an inerrant law textbook. Even the 39 Articles, regarded as the touchstone of Anglican authenticity by the conservative Evangelical wing of the Church, state that “Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation.” They don’t say you have to believe everything in the Bible to be saved.

When I say that to conservative Evangelicals in Northern Ireland, especially with reference to the homosexuality debate, they accuse me of picking and choosing which bits of Scripture suit me. Well, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews said, the word of God “cuts more keenly than any two edged sword”, and in this instance, it very much cuts both ways. You can’t claim the unbendable, inerrant, word of God as grounds for outlawing gay marriage or abortion and then run around acting in such flagrant breach of it. At least not if you want anyone to take you, or your religion, seriously.

  • Dewi

    Who to prosecute Gerry? Can you do so collectively against the Black?

  • The Lodger


    Have you been following the RC church’s position on gay marriage at all? they are quite vocal about it in Scotland just now.

  • Oh yes, Lodger.

  • Mister_Joe

    Who to prosecute


    I don’t know the situation now but, back in the days when I was a student in N.I., to hold a parade or demonstration, a named individual had to request permission from the police ( PC now, I guess). That person was legally responsible for everything that happened during the occasion and could be prosecuted in criminal court if anything illegal occurred..

  • Here are my own views of the debacle of last Saturday:


  • As I actually said on the blog post, linked to by Gerry, the Belfast Grand Master apparently tore up the determinations of the Parades Commission before the parade set off (it was in a tweet by a Unionist Councillor). This was a clear incitement for others to break those determinations, therefore he for one should be arrested and charged that much is clear. As Mister_Joe said he was probably also the one to send the request to the PC itself in the first instance.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The Public Processions Act is quite clear. If you incite someone to knowingly violate a Parades Commission determination you are committing a crime. The Grand Master of the Belfast lodge is therefore liable to prosecution as his public tearing up of the ruling was unequivocally an invitation to disobey it.

    Mister_Joe, sadly we have an a lá carte attitude to the law here. In particular, as Newton Emerson noted some time ago, the Public Prosecution Service practically operates in secret and is notorious for refusing to prosecute test cases, such as this one. The same office very nearly allowed the killers of Thomas Devlin to go free and were about to refuse to prosecute the suspects until public outcry forced them to reverse their position.

    I hope this at the very least means we will never have to listen to unionist politicians using the phrase “law abiding unionists” again. I note this evening that Nelson McCausland refuses to condemn the conduct of the bands pending a police investigation. As if pending police investigations have ever prevented him from commenting before.

  • Who to prosecute Gerry?

    Looking at reports of the weekend, and given the significant amount of video evidence, the PPS should have plenty to get their teeth into.

  • lamhdearg2

    Martyrdom, Anyone?.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I can almost hear the cries of “persecuted for being a loyal Protestant” ringing in my ears right now.

  • Better Together

    It is not readily apparent to me what these issues have to bring them within the same sphere of debate. There is an alternative argument, Gerry, against the redefinition of marriage, one that does not require a specific interpretation of the injunctions in Leviticus or Romans.

    Marriage is not a civil or secular concept, or at least it has come to reflect the assumptions of Judaeo-Christian morality for centuries. Marriage in this respect has been more than a simple contract one enters into, say for the purchase of goods or property, it has reflected a collective belief in the institution of marriage as the basis of family life, procreation and monogamy.

    If we redefine marriage to be a purely civil concept, then there is no moral argument that marriage can not include polygamy- if it is simply the state giving effect to the wises of two people in love, then why not two or three people in love? Surely one can readily forge an argument that it is the responsibility of the state to facilitate such desires on the part of its citizens. Once one rejects the fundamentally religious basis of marriage, we create a blank canvas on which to paint.

    This is the root of the issue- the gay community ought to focus their efforts on dialogue with the church community rather than seeking a legal redefinition of marriage, thereby using the state as a means to undercut Christian assumptions.

    I fully supported civil partnerships and I thought the criminalisation of homosexuality was abhorrent and never should have been on the statute books. Civil partnerships was a compromise to this fundamental conundrum and afforded equality of legal treatment whilst recognising the linkage of marriage with religious faith/culture.

  • Pete Baker


    I’m not a fan of supernaturalists of any shade, but that’s a complete strawman of an argument…

  • Mister_Joe

    Better together,

    There is a lot to argue with there but let’s just take one, procreation.
    Should an infertile man or woman be denied marriage?

  • Comrade Stalin


    I think the point about polygamy is a justification for making marriage a solely religious matter. I do not see how the number or kind of people a person choses to have a relationship with is any of the state’s business, provided the laws on things like consent and incest (which are matters of public safety or health) are obeyed.

    The other point, of course, is that many of the strongest opponent of gay marriage point at the bible to justify their belief. I think Gerry is trying to say that you have to take the whole package. Of course, selective upholding of the scripture isn’t exactly a recent innovation ..

  • Dewi

    Seriously – in this instance it’s an institution that should be prosecuted?

  • Better Together


    Of course not and that is a ridiculous question, The point I was making was that the religious grounds for marriage shape our idea of what the ideal family unit is and serves as a crucial pillar in pursuit of that end. That doesn’t make it compulsory for every person, it merely means that it is a central feature of marriage as a social construct.


    I think that is where we differ- as an orthodox liberal, you feel that the state must be inherently neutral in person’s conceptions of the good and therefore it is not an instrument for shaping common culture and customs, but merely for giving effect to the rights of its subjects as individuals. I see the state partly as a reflection of the common culture of a society, balancing this with the rights of minorities. In short, I disagree with the privatisation of morality.

  • Better Together

    Comrade Stalin

    I forgot to say I appreciate your candour. Many on the liberal left are not as open about this and seek to claim that same-sex marriage is an extension of marriage, rather than a redefinition of it.

  • Have a shufty at this video of Republicans in Dungiven:

    What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Like with Loyalists on Donegall Street, no-one would have paid a second glance to a Republican parade like this up the town in Dungiven. But outside a Protestant Church in a County Derry village with an overwhelming Nationalist majority is not an appropriate place for this. What future for members of the Church of Ireland does Sinn Féin, in the Irish Republic it envisages, think it communicates to Protestants by behaving like this? Every stupid piece of sectarian triumphalism in Republican areas West of the Bann acts as an apology for the stupid sectarianism that Catholics have to put up with in places like North Belfast and South East Antrim.

    It’s all stupid, and really rather nasty and mean. It all needs to stop.

  • Pete Baker


    “Have a shufty at this video of Republicans in Dungiven:

    That might have been a point better made in the original post.

    If your aim hadn’t been elsewhere…

  • Barnshee

    “What future for members of the Church of Ireland does Sinn Féin, in the Irish Republic it envisages, think it communicates ”

    Borders on the surreal – we have already seen what has happened

    400 years of murder campaigns one might say

  • Pete Baker

    I’m not a fan of supernaturalists of any shade, but that’s a complete strawman of an argument…

    Well, quit the foreplay and tear it to pieces. With your Dawkins-ite “Bright” philosophy, you should leave a tired old religionist like me in the shade.

    Better Together

    If we redefine marriage to be a purely civil concept

    If I wanted to redefine marriage to be a purely civil concept, I would hardly be arguing for same-sex marriage instead of civil partnerships. As a Christian, I argue – same rights, same rules, same responsibilities.I think marriage is wonderful, the greatest gift God has given me. Now, your religion may not be in agreement with that but I don’t think you have any right to enshrine that in civil law.

    Civil partnerships are already understood as – and were instinctively understood by most people as – marriage in all but name. Most people – about 70% in Great Britain and the Republic according to all polling – are absolutely in favour of this. Conservatives have lost the argument on its merits. Where it has strength, as here in Northern Ireland, all we need to is wait for a few more years of demographic replacement and we’re over the line. We’ve won the argument.

    Given that fact, I’m not surprised to hear you say:

    This is the root of the issue- the gay community ought to focus their efforts on dialogue with the church community

    and I’m always open to dialogue. I don’t see any mileage in Christians demonising one another. But I note, as a gay Christian, the Churches have absolutely no interest in having a dialogue with their own gay members. Are you so interested in dialogue when you’re in a position of strength? I don’t find that to be so.

    Politicians call for homosexuality to be recriminalised and make the dangerous conflation of homosexuality with paedophilia (most recently: Ken Maginnis on the news this evening). I never hear self-styled caring religious conservatives say, “Hey, steady on Ken, I think homosexual activity is morally wrong from a Scriptural perspective, but I think that sort of talk gets people queerbashed.” Or making the Scriptural case against homosexuality being a criminal offence.

    Some of the most vitriolicly anti-gay clergy are big wheels in the Orange and the Black. I look forward to seeing them maintain such a firm Scriptural stance if the book is thrown at William Mawhinney.

  • Pete Baker

    “Well, quit the foreplay and tear it to pieces.”

    It’s a strawman argument, Gerry. Why would anyone, in their right mind, engage with it?

  • Devil Eire

    “I’m not a fan of supernaturalists of any shade…”

    Demonstrably not true.

  • babyface finlayson

    I don’t see this as a strawman argument at all.
    The RBI professes to propagate the Christian faith, so I think you are perfectly entitled to ask how its actions do so, or not.
    Unfortunately,as you know it is all too easy to find scripture to support all kinds of things.
    If need be they can choose between the wrathful Old Testament god or the merciful New Testament Christ.
    Or the throwing out of the money lenders from the temple is a useful one to establish precedent for a bit of righteous aggro.
    Christians often like to portray Jesus as a rebel against authority, so I suppose the loyal orders are only following in his footsteps.

  • babyface finlayson

    I don’t see this as a strawman argument at all.

    Of course it isn’t. If it was, a man of Pete’s intelligence would tear it to bits as a sort of early-morning P90X for the brain. Pete just pops up on other people’s posts on Slugger and sort of says “your article is rubbish, I’m so much cleverer than you.”

  • Greenflag

    The Bible /Scriptures also states that ‘adulterers ‘ must be stoned to death .

    I trust Mrs Robinson keeps her distance from those Royal Black Preceptory types . You never know what they might hear from the ‘voices ‘ emanating from any nearby burning bushes . No doubt many of them have seen their errant and disobedient wives turned into pillars of salt like Lot’s wife ?

    The trail of gobshittery is an endless one for these loonies 🙁 Hypocrites from bald pates to toenail -The followers of One Book and a marching band .:(

  • son of sam

    One would expect the Sovereign Grand Master of the Black to comment on the matter.Can anyone point to any public statement he has made on the antics on Donegall Street?

  • Turgon

    Comrade Stalin,

    I am not getting at you (for once) bnut ilustrating a flaw in the system you mentioned above. Above you mentioned “provided the laws on things like consent and incest (which are matters of public safety or health) are obeyed.”

    The consent issue is valid but the health one not. The risk of congenital malformations from the child of two siblings (actually lower tahn one might think) is not a justification for banning consensual sexual activity between them. By that logic a couple who have already had a child with an autosomal recessive condition and hence, have a 25% chance of having another affected child would not be allowed to have sex lest they reproduce. Further an individual who has an autosomal dominant condition and, hence, a 50% chance of passing that condition on to a child would not be allowed to have sex.

    The above people can have sex. A brother and sister both over 18 cannot lest they be prosecuted. Very few might wish to countenance legalising consensual incest but the simple reality is that they are discriminated against and your proposed justification for that discrimination is invalid.

    In reality a more general problem is that civil partbnerships are available to same sex romamtically / sexually linked copules. Such an option is not available to hetrosexual couples. They do have marriage but arguably they are discriminated against in that they cannot choose civil partnership. That is certainly a position held by Peter Thatchel.

    The above may all seem arcane even perverse. However, a major reason these issues become problematic is the likes of inheritance. My wife would not have to pay any inheritance tax on anything she inherits should I die. The same is true for civil partners.

    However, that discriminates against non sexually / romatically linked couples. Take the example of elderly sisters or brothers living together: a common enough circumstance especially in rural communities. They cannot take advantage of civil partnerships. Or even the example of a son or daughter (usually daughter) who gives up her career to care for elderly parents. Such an individual can end up with inheritance tax and cannot avail of the tax advantages of civil partnerships.

    I point out the above not to support (or condemn) gay marriage, civil partnership etc. It merely demonstrates that once one ends the unique position of marriage between one man and one woman for reasons of supposed equality one is left discriminating against all manner of other human relationships.

  • Mister_Joe


    Totally agree with your stance on civil partnerships. Two of my aunts, sisters, and neither ever married were in the exact circumstances you describe. Luckily, perhaps, they were both relatively poor and had no estate worth mentioning, but it could be a severe problem for some.

  • Mister_Joe

    As for marriage, I don’t think the State should be involved in any way other than registering a union, and providing some sort of “ceremony” if the couple of any gender wish it. Then marriage can remain a religious ceremony if desired..

  • commonsenseunionist

    Not sure what this is about is it about gay marriage or parading seems a strange marriage between these two issues.

    The thing is marriage is a bit of an institution which helps bring kids up. Probably the best idea for this yet invented.If you go not that far back people got married sort when they reached an age

    Men and women drifted towards the point when they would fulfil societies role.

    it did not mean they would love each other for ever as it was as much an institution as it was a love/sex bond.

    Well,now people of the same sex want to jump on the bandwagon. Part of me asks why they want this.Bringing up kids is expensive and trying but rewarding since they are part of you physically.Teenagers and young adults can extract all the money you ever earned or ever will earn in a lifetime. As a mum or dad you forgive them as they are part of you and in some ways you live your life through them all over again.

    I am at lengths to understand how this is attractive to people of the same sex, maybe someone could explain.

    As for the born again evangalists, well what can I say. They love this it gives them a platform to sound off yet again quoting from the ancient text in the Bible all written at a time when life was agrarian and very simple.

    Society should firstly define what they want or need marriage for then decide if same sex fits in.As far as I can see it the liberal democracy of the UK has decided that marriage assists the stability of society, and if same sex folk wish to join in so be it.In fact sex need not even be involved. Two folk of the same sex, who are not gay could decide to from a bond and call it a marriage, why not. Would the evengalists be happy then if no sex were involved.

    Lets talk about what society needs not what the society of an ancient agrarian culture from the deserts of the middle east needed four thousand years ago. But, hold on, sorry maybe I missed something here, is it not possible that we have an advanced society which decides these issues in parliament of the whole of the UK then votes upon them and the rest of us as democrats agree with the decision.We amy decide that same sex marriage serves no purpose and reject it or we may decide it does and accept it.Of course the gay community would have to accept the decision also

  • CSU,

    But, hold on, sorry maybe I missed something here, is it not possible that we have an advanced society which decides these issues in parliament of the whole of the UK then votes upon them and the rest of us as democrats agree with the decision

    No, as democrats we use persuasion to effect change. That doesn’t mean agreeing with every decision – it means consenting to keep our disagreement contained within certain boundaries.

    The problem comes when a significant number of people remove that consent. Most, if not all, rights issues have involved some measure of civil disobedience, be that racial segregation, religious discrimination or gay sex. To take an extreme example, if the government of the UK voted to kill all the Jews, would we as democrats be obliged to demur? Of course not.

    That leads to the liberal basis of government, which is that the state should only have those powers that are delegated to it by the consent of the people. We consent to the state having the power to put us in jail, because only that way can the state put others in jail to protect us. We run the risk of being incarcerated ourselves but we accept this as the price of our security. On the other hand, we do not (currently) consent to the state arranging marriages for us, as this is a violation of our rights.

    The question here is not what does society want from marriage, but rather do we consent to the government having the power to selectively forbid or reward different categories of personal relationship? If we do, then on what basis can it be justified?