A church minister in Northern Ireland has won his legal battle against the hotel that shut down his meeting about traditional marriage after it was already underway.
Revd Harry Coulter was set to take his case to trial, but the Balmoral Hotel in Belfast has settled out of court and apologised for ending the event.
The ‘Marriage Matters’ meeting had already started at the venue in October last year when hotel staff demanded it should be brought to a close, citing a complaint from another patron.
The meeting had been organised by Revd Harry Coulter to address the imposition of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
Same-sex marriage was forced into law in the Province by MPs at Westminster in October last year while the Northern Ireland Assembly was not meeting.
Fifty attendees had to leave the hotel along with the keynote speaker, Tony Rucinski from the Coalition for Marriage, who had travelled from Wales.
At the time Revd Coulter said it left him feeling ‘humiliated’. Lawyers acting for the church minister initially wrote to the hotel, saying it was a clear case of discrimination.
They wrote that the only reason the event was stopped ‘was because it was promoting and supporting the proposition that marriage should only be between a man and a woman’.
Revd Coulter said it is important that regardless of their beliefs, people are able to express their opinions and views, ‘otherwise, we get very close to censorship and to state control’.
In a statement the Coalition for Marriage said, ‘This incident is a chilling reminder of the unfair treatment sometimes meted out to supporters of traditional marriage.
‘In recent years, numerous individuals and groups have been punished simply because they believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. This isn’t fair, and it isn’t right.
‘What happened to Harry Coulter wasn’t only a breach of contract but a violation of free speech – a right that should be afforded to all people.’