Lord Alderdice, the predecessor to David Ford, the current leader of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party, has said that Ford has been treated harshly by his church over his equal marriage support.

Ford stepped down as elder at Second Donegor Presbyterian Church earlier this month, around controversy surrounding his support for equal marriage. His position on the issue will now be investigated by the church.

Lord Alderdice has said that this is a difficult time for Ford, as his faith was of particular importance to him.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence programme he said: “He is elected by the electors of his constituency to represent all their views and yet what’s been suggested, more than suggested, is that he has got to take a very particular line on a piece of legislation.

“I think that’s an extremely difficult position for him and it seems to me that the way that he has been treated has not been characterised by the kind of brotherly love, concern and thoughtful engagement that ought to be characteristic of the church,” he continued.

Ford’s Alliance Party supports equal marriage in Northern Ireland, however the Presbyterian Church strongly opposes it.

On Friday, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) again blocked progress on same-sex marriage legislation in the country, having effectively vetoed a motion to legalise it through a ‘petition of concern’.

The proposed motion was being pushed by Sinn Fein following an overwhelming vote in favour of a referendum on legalising same-sex marriage in the Republic of Ireland.

The Stormont Assembly will debate the motion on Monday 29 April, but it will now fail due to the petition of concern lodged by the DUP.

Catholic bishops in Northern Ireland had been writing to assembly members urging them to vote against a motion which would legalise equal marriage.