Free speech and religious liberty protections will be put in place alongside the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, the Government has promised.
With the first same-sex marriages expected to take place in February the Northern Ireland Office had been warned that it faced possible legal action if protections were not in place.
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith has confirmed a series of legal changes will be made to coincide with the introduction of same-sex marriage.
Criticism of same-sex marriage will not be an offence. He also said that equality law is being amended so that religious bodies and staff cannot be sued for declining to take part in a blessing or other event marking a civil same-sex wedding.
Changes will also protect the ability of religious organisations to dismiss a staff member who enters a same-sex marriage if that is incompatible with the organisation’s values.