Peter Robinson hits out at cost of Ashers Bakery court case

 

As with all reporting, a balance must be sought between both sides of a dispute.  When a legal case was not sought or indeed envisaged by the person who placed the ordr for the cake, nor I am certain were Asher’s wishing to be in the limelight for an equality case, the fact is that they both are now tangent to what is happening.  The Equality Commission, established in 1998, has duties which derive from a number of statutes which have been enacted over the last decades, providing protection against discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, race, religion and political opinion, sex and sexual orientation. They also have responsibilities arising from the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in respect of the statutory equality and good relations duties which apply to public authorities. However, importantly, they are sponsoring Department is the Office of the First and deputy First Minister which carries responsibilities for equality policy and legislation in the Northern Ireland Executive.
With these facts in mind, it is obvious that the Equality Commission is fulfilling its mission within the statues.  What is not so obvious is why the Office of the First Minister in the person of Rt Hon Peter D Robinson MLA would seem to be at odds with the body that it provides funding for.  However, politics does make strange bedfellows, as can be seen in the Belfast Telegraph report below.
But before you make your mind up on this case, please remember that all legal cases have an impact on our future; and that if we allow politicians to ram down our throats that we are second class citizens for any reason, what next in our rights will be eroded away?
I will also note that most of the newspapers have carefully put a photograph of the Asher family to the front, with the inference being that here is the ‘perfect, normal’ family which the DUP and its supporters rave about!
Pacemaker Press 6/11/2014<br /><br /><br /><br />
Daniel  and Amy McArthur with their Baby Girl Elia,  Daniel from Ashers Baking Company refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.  The Equality Commission are now going  to take  civil action against a Christian-owned bakery firm.<br /><br /><br /><br />
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Pacemaker Press 6/11/2014 Daniel and Amy McArthur with their Baby Girl Elia, Daniel from Ashers Baking Company refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. The Equality Commission are now going to take civil action against a Christian-owned bakery firm. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

First Minister Peter Robinson has accused the Equality Commission of spending up to £33,000 to seek court damages worth £500 from a Christian-owned bakery.

The commission has brought a civil case against Ashers Baking Company after it refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. The two-day hearing is due in the High Court later this week.

The DUP leader said: “When you consider that they have set aside the potential of spending £33,000 on this court case where they are seeking damages of £500 against Ashers, there is a better use that could be put to that money, particularly in the tight fiscal situation the Executive faces.” Ashers is facing the action after it refused to supply a pro-gay marriage cake on grounds of the owners’ religious views.

A new poll released yesterday found that more than 70% of people believe it is wrong for a Christian bakery to be taken to court over its refusal to make a cake supporting gay marriage. As the case approaches, the debate has intensifed between Christian-based groups, including church leaders, and pro-gay groups.

 A human rights academic has claimed that businesses owned by Christians have a legal way of providing services while not approving of gay relationships.

Professor Steven Greer has suggested that busin esses can print a disclaimer on invoices, websites, and other business documents, to say that compliance with statutory requirements does not constitute approval of the activities in question. In a commentary piece, the Bristol University professor argues that the courts need to strike a balance between competing rights and interests.

Mr Greer believes that a ‘conscience clause’ bill proposed to the Assembly by the DUP’s Paul Givan has little chance of ever being introduced as it would be repealed by Westminster and legally challenged in Strasbourg.

He suggests: “Those providing goods and services in Northern Ireland who do not approve of gay relationships, could and should simply issue a disclaimer on their invoices, websites, and other business documents to the effect that compliance with relevant statutory requirements does not necessarily constitute approval of the activities in question.”

Churches across Northern Ireland have been encouraged by the Christian Institute to highlight a support meeting to their members tonight at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall while pro-gay rights rallies have been held in various towns.

‘How simple disclaimer could be solution to the rights versus conscience deadlock’

There could be a way round the difficulties thrown up by the Ashers case, writes Prof Steven Greer:

This Thursday, the District Judges Court in Belfast will begin hearing a case, brought by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on behalf of gay activist Mr Gareth Lee, against Ashers Baking Company for alleged breach of statutory duty not to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods or services.

On the basis of strongly held Christian beliefs, the bakery declined an order from Mr Lee for a cake decorated with Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie in a friendly but not intimate embrace, the logo of the campaign group ‘QueerSpace’, and the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.

There seems little doubt that Ashers will lose the litigation, and that Mr Lee will be modestly compensated, because the legislation in question, the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006, does not provide an exemption on any ground, including religious faith.

Possibly anticipating this outcome, DUP Assembly member, Paul Givan, is seeking to provide one by way of a Private Members Bill supported by his party and the Catholic Church amongst others. Mr Givan’s amendment would not legalise all refusals to supply goods and services to gays in Northern Ireland.

It would, instead, provide a ‘conscience clause’ permitting those with strongly held religious views to avoid ‘endorsing, promoting or facilitating behaviour or beliefs’ which conflict with these convictions. Some have claimed that the current position in Northern Ireland is ‘Christianophobic’ — intolerant of and discriminatory towards Christians. And, according to First Minister Peter Robinson, the Equality Commission’s case amounts simply to ‘bullying’.

For these and others, the proposed amendment would, merely provide an appropriate, measured solution to a genuine conflict between the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, on the one hand, and the right not to be discriminated against due to sexual preference on the other. By contrast, others regard it as an attempt to legalise homophobia.

The right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual preference is clear in international human rights law with, for example, the decriminalization of private, consensual, adult, gay sex mandatory throughout the 47-member Council of Europe, no matter how strong national or regional opposition. And for good reason.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have long suffered, not just discrimination, but often savage mistreatment merely for claiming identities or engaging in private, consensual, adult sexual activities, of which others disapprove. The scope of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is, however, less clear.

Since it unquestionably includes the right not to be compelled to believe against conscience, religious conservatives are well within their rights to regard gay sex as inherently wrong because God forbids it.

But the permissibility of the expression of religious belief, in commercial and other spheres, hinges fundamentally upon its consequences, including and especially how others are affected.

Were Mr Givan’s amendment to be passed, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland could, for example, be lawfully denied a table at a restaurant, a room in a hotel, or a mortgage, on the grounds that this would otherwise endorse or facilitate same-sex unions.

But, apart from a sense of discomfort, distaste or outrage, it is not at all clear what loss or damage is suffered by those who feel that being required to provide gays with customised goods and services compels them to act contrary to their core religious beliefs.

Such a ‘loss’, if a loss it is at all, pales into insignificance compared with the tangible and potentially substantial damage which could be sustained by gay couples in such circumstances.

There is, in any case, a simpler solution to these difficulties. Instead of an exemption from the 2006 regulations, those providing goods and services in Northern Ireland who do not approve of gay relationships, could and should simply issue a disclaimer on their invoices, websites, and other business documents to the effect that compliance with relevant statutory requirements does not necessarily constitute approval of the activities in question.

Steven Greer was born and raised in Belfast and is currently Professor of Human Rights at the University of Bristol Law School

4 replies
  1. Seán McGouran
    Seán McGouran says:

    How much money did the DUP (then ‘Protestant’ UP) / Free P (not to mention Free Methodist, & other even more minuscule Churches) spend on the absurdly-named Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign?
    Mr. Robinson is a Pentecostalist, but that’s no improvement on the FPC, US Pentecostalists are pouring US $billions into Africa. Not to heal the sick, or educate the coming generations, – but to make non-heterosexuality illegal as well as socially unacceptable – (to the point of murderous assault).
    They do this but lying (which is unambiguously sinful according to the Bible), and by showing pornography which most Gay men would find disturbing; and pretending that that is what homosexuality is about.
    They don’t show lesbian porn because in their ideology women are ‘lesser vessels’, to be treated as their husbands, or even male offspring see fit. That includes violent chastisement, and virtual chattel slavery.

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