Protestants and Catholics who have previously been fiercely critical of each other – refusing even to recognise one another as fellow Christians, in some cases – have come together to oppose legislation in the province that would require them to treat lesbian and gay people on an equal basis in terms of public provision.
The Christian Institute lobby group and a number of smaller Protestant denominations are now being backed by Catholic bishops in seeking a judicial review of the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs), which came into force in January 2007.
The legislation was introduced into Northern Ireland ahead of the rest of Britain after a consultation period which the complainants say is too short.
The Northern Ireland case is likely to have an impact on similar threatened action in the rest of the United Kingdom, following a concerted campaign by conservative Christian groups.
Earlier this week a Catholic spokesperson in Northern Ireland told the BBC that the bishops were worried about the effect of the legislation on schools, adoption and marriage support services.
But others inside and outside the churches, including the Green Party, say that it is wrong for Christian-backed bodies to seek to treat people unequally in public provision and services, on practical, moral and theological grounds.
The churches who are already involved in the current case include the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Congregational Union of Ireland, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Association of Baptist Churches and the Fellowship of Independent Methodist Churches.
The province’s two largest Protestant denominations have not joined the legal action. The judicial review is due to start on 4 June 2007 and is expected to last for three or four days.
In Britain, Catholic leaders and evangelical Christian lobby groups have also vigorously opposed SORs, including provisions for the equal treatment of lesbian and gay couples in adoption agencies run by the Catholic Church in England and Scotland.
But many other Christians – including the evangelical Faithworks Movement, which has 20,000 affiliates – have backed equal treatment in public service provision, saying that it is a Gospel imperative.