LGBTI activists are rallying against a new bill proposal which they fear could legitimise anti-gay discrimination in Northern Ireland.
The proposed ‘conscience clause’ is a measure which could allow people to refuse goods or services to gay and lesbian people on the ground of their strongly-held religious beliefs.
An example of this would be the Belfast bakery which refused to bake a gay Bert and Ernie cake. Activists fear if the proposed ‘conscience clause’ was made law, then it would legitimise discriminatory behaviour such as this.
The Private Members’ Bill has been proposed by Paul Givan, a Democratic Unionist Party member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and has been backed by party leader and First Minister, Peter Robinson.
John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project which is a pro-LGBT rights group based in Northern Ireland, hit out against the bill.
‘Mr Givan claims that his bill will allow believers to deny goods and services to LGB people when it ‘promotes or facilitates same sex relations’. Let us explain to Mr Givan what this means,’ said O’Doherty.
‘Restaurants could deny same sex couples a table as this could be facilitating same sex relations. A mortgage provider could deny a mortgage to a same sex couple as it would be facilitating same-sex relations. Hoteliers could deny a room to a same sex couple as it would be facilitating same-sex relations.
‘The examples are countless. Mr Givan clearly has not considered the implications of his license to discriminate legislation. Ensuring LGB people can access goods and services without discrimination is good for business, good for the economy and good for Northern Ireland’s reputation with investors.’
In addition to the Rainbow Project, Amnesty International has also criticized the proposal.
‘What is proposed is not a conscience clause, it is a discrimination clause,’ said Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director.
‘This is not about freedom of religion; this is about treating a section of our population as second-class citizens.
‘This change to the law is not welcome and it is not needed. The law already strikes a fair balance between the human right to freedom of religion and the human right not to suffer discrimination.
‘Northern Ireland’s First Minister should concentrate on eradicating inequalities already faced by members of the LGBTI community here, rather than lending his support to a discriminatory new law.
‘He could start by publishing Stormont’s long overdue sexual orientation strategy, which could help tackle homophobia in Northern Ireland society.’
#NoConscienceClause has already begun trending on social media, facilitated by The Rainbow Project.
Today at 3pm (31 January), there is a planned protest against the bill at Belfast City Hall. There will also be partner protests in Derry-Londonderry and Newry.
Stephen Fry has signed a petition arguing for the dismissal of the bill.
– See more at: http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/northern-ireland-gay-activists-fight-bill-which-could-allow-gay-discrimination310115#sthash.MAMacSvl.dpuf