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Presbyterian Church rejects elder's appeal on same-sex marriage dismissal

Steve Smyrl
Image caption Steve Smyrl married his partner of 20 years in 2018

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has rejected an appeal by a Church elder against his dismissal for being in a same-sex marriage.

Steven Smyrl had been an ordained elder in Christ Church, Sandymount, in south Dublin since 2007.

He had appealed to a Church judicial commission to overturn the decision made by a presbytery commission to sack him.

However, the judicial commission dismissed his appeal.

Mr Smyrl was informed of the appeal decision in writing by the clerk of the church's general assembly, the Reverend Trevor Gribben.

In his letter - which Mr Smyrl received on Wednesday - Mr Gribben said the commission had reached its decision after "lengthy discussion" at a meeting on Monday.

"Having considered the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's settled position, being in either a same-sex civil partnership or a same-sex marriage is not compatible with being in the ordained leadership of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland," wrote Mr Gribben.

He said that the commission had decided that: "Mr Steven Smyrl's stated grounds of appeal do not meet the requirement of being adequate and appropriate to be heard... and his appeal is dismissed."

Mr Smyrl had launched his appeal following the decision taken by a previous Church commission to dismiss him as an elder.

He has been with his partner Roy Stanley for 20 years.

They entered a civil partnership in 2011 and were married in Dublin in November 2018.

That was after the Republic of Ireland legalised same-sex marriage in 2015.

The general assembly of the Presbyterian Church voted to deny full membership of the Church to anyone in a same-sex relationship in June 2018.

'Kick to the stomach'

In April 2019, Mr Smyrl was told by the then moderator of Dublin and Munster Presbytery, the Reverend Alastair Dunlop, that a "concern" had been raised about his position as an elder.

A presbytery commission including Mr Dunlop, the incoming moderator of Dublin and Munster Presbytery the Reverend Helen Freeburn, the Reverend Frank Sellar - the minister of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in Belfast - and the deputy clerk of the general assembly, Jim Stothers, was et up to investigate and rule on Mr Smyrl's position.

In mid-September, that commission decided to remove him as an elder on the grounds that "to be in a same-sex marriage is not compatible with being in ordained leadership of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland".

Mr Smyrl previously told BBC News NI that the church's decision was "like a kick to the stomach".

However, the Church's judicial commission has now upheld the decision taken by the presbytery commission.

When contacted by BBC News NI, Mr Smyrl said that he was "saddened but not surprised" that his appeal against his dismissal had been rejected by the Church.

"I feel that what they are saying is that gay people are second class in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland," he said.

"We are expected to live sad, lonely unfulfilled lives which lack the comfort of a loving, committed relationship."

"On a practical level they are also saying that, unlike heterosexuals, we are expected to play Russian roulette with our legal and financial security because we are forbidden to contract even a secular, civil, marriage."

'Order its own affairs'

In response, a spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said the church recognised "that in the Republic of Ireland both same-sex civil partnerships and same-sex marriage are permissible under the law of the land and that individuals have the clear right to avail of one, or other, of these".

"At the same time, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has the right to order its own affairs under the Word of God, our supreme standard, and guided by our confessional sub-ordinate standards.

"In matters of doctrine, the Church alone has the right to interpret and explain her standards, under the guidance of the Spirit of God.

"The Church's clear and settled position is that being in either a same-sex civil partnership, or same-sex marriage, is not compatible with being in the ordained leadership of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

"This is not denying the right of any individual to enter into either.

"It is, however, asserting the right of the Church to set and interpret the standards it requires of its own ordained leadership.

"For these reasons, the Church's Judicial Commission concurred with the local Dublin and Munster Presbytery that Mr Steven Smyrl, being in a same-sex marriage, is not compatible with him being in the ordained leadership of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland."

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