The Catholic Church has come out in support of the Northern Irish ‘conscience clause’ bill that would allow homophobic discrimination, BBC reports.
The highly criticised bill seeks to exempt people with “strongly held” religious views from certain equality laws – which will effectively allow anti-gay business owners to refuse LGBT customers. It was drafted by DUP Paul Givan, who said that Christians “do not feel there is space being made for their religious beliefs”.
The bill was prompted by the highly publicised “gay cake row” in which Catholic-owned Asher’s Bakery in Belfast were threatend with legal action from the Equality Commission for refusing to bake a cake with a pro-marriage equality slogan.
Givan continued to explain his reasoning behind the bill, saying, “The issue at stake is when you’re asked to produce a particular service. It’s about the message you’re being asked to endorse, not the messenger who’s asking for it. Say someone comes in and asks for a cake saying ‘I support gay marriage’ – that’s a direct form of communication you’re asking this Christian-owned company to produce and they don’t want to be forced to do that.
“I don’t think that’s unreasonable, I think that’s tolerant and if we live in a pluralist, liberal society we need to make space for difference.”
A delegation led by Rev. Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, met the DUP to discuss the bill this week. Treanor said that politicians need to address the “problem” [with discrimination laws], agreeing with the DUP that religious freedom should be protected. He added that “it would be wrong to swap one form of discrimination for another.”
Canon Charles Kenny, The Church of Ireland’s Changing Attitudes Ireland spokesman, commented, “The negative effects of the proposed conscience clause will increase unreasonable and oppressive hostility towards our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) fellow citizens. We believe this proposal is viewed by many people of faith and by others as a straightforward attack on LGBT community and it is not consistent with the loving and inclusive message of Christianity”.
Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International also said in a statement, “What is proposed is not a conscience clause, it is a discrimination clause. 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 concluded.
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