A new ‘conscience clause’ being proposed will legally protect gay discrimination
If I ran a bakery and someone came in and asked me to bake a cake that says, “NO TO GAY MARRIAGE”, I would tell them to find another bakery.
So I support Ashers Bakery, which was recently threatened with legal action over its refusal to make a pro-gay marriage cake. But only to an extent. As a gay woman, they’ll never be getting my business, but I can see this for what it is: a freedom of conscience issue. Turning a a gay couple away from a hotel, however, is not. And that’s what will happen under the DUP’s proposed equality bill. Not only will service providers be able to discriminate against me, the law will protect them too.
It’s sad to see the DUP pursuing this. This was the same party that, before the Peace Process, actively supported a system of power that discriminated against the country’s Catholic minority. Forty years ago, they’d have denied me my rights because I was Catholic. Now they’re denying me them because I’m gay.
It’s as if history has taught them nothing. And it poses a worrying question – who is next? If the battle for gay equality is fought and won, will they find another target? Will black people no longer be welcome in Northern Ireland? Immigrants? We already know what the party leader thinks of Muslims.
Yet this doesn’t just affect my life. It will have an impact on heterosexual, working-class Unionists too.
The Unionists I know are not bigots. They are ordinary people who have better things to do than worry about my love life. When I was 17, I told my friend Gavyn, an Orange Order marching, July 12 loving, “British till I die” Prod that I was gay. From memory, I got a hug and, subsequently, a text after he converted to Christianity to tell me “it changed nothing”.
Yet Unionism has a PR problem. The actions of people like Paul Givan – who proposed this ridiculous equality bill – have turned it into a political ideology linked with prejudice and elitism. The battle for equal rights for Catholics has been fought and won but as long as Givan & Co. keep finding new people to hate, the Protestant community will not be allowed to forget what happened. They continue, in the eyes of the world, to be “those bigots” who said no to civil rights in 1969. Every request for others to “respect their culture” is consequently treated with scorn when it should be considered.
Christians have rights – and I will defend them. Yes, I disagree with their views on gay marriage but I’ll defend to the death their right to hold them. I can live with someone having an opinion I don’t like.
What I can’t live with is that opinion becoming law that prevents me from getting married.
Paul Givan is not asking for equality – he is asking for the right to discriminate against me. He’s asking for a return to the old Northern Ireland, where some of us are equal and some of us aren’t. And again, it’s all because of religion.