Conscience clause could trigger costly boycotts, says MLA
The adoption of a "conscience clause" into Northern Ireland trading legislation could trigger a boycott similar to one affecting a US state that adopted a similar law change, the Assembly has been warned.
Indiana's "religious freedom" law, which critics claim discriminates against the gay community, has seen concerts cancelled, sponsorship for major technology conferences pulled and the axing of a multimillion-pound company expansion, Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane told members.
She expressed concern over a similar impact on Northern Ireland's ability to attract investment and major events if the DUP succeeded in passing its contentious amendment to the law.
The DUP's Paul Givan is proposing a law change that would effectively allow traders to refuse business that they deemed contravened their religious beliefs.
The move comes in the wake of a high-profile legal action against Christian bakers in Belfast who refused to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan. A judge has reserved judgment in the case taken by the gay rights activist whose order was declined.
Sinn Fein has vowed to block the passage of the DUP's Private Member's Bill at Stormont.
During Assembly Question Time, Mrs Cochrane asked DUP Economy Minister Arlene Foster if she was worried about the sort of backlash experienced by Indiana.
"Does the minister share my concern that the proposed conscience clause in Northern Ireland could have implications similar to the business and sport boycott of the state of Indiana following the introduction of similar legislation?" she asked.
Mrs Foster emphatically rejected the claim.
"No, I don't share her concerns at all," she told the chamber.
"I do have to say to the member, however, that what does concern me is the number of small businesses who have approached me individually and many of my colleagues in relation to the concerns they have about the provision of services in the future (in the wake of the gay cake row).
"It is a concern she would do well, and her party would do well to acknowledge because we aren't just interested in foreign direct investment, we are also very much interested in our indigenous companies."
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Judgment was reserved last month at the end of the 'gay cake' case. Ashers Bakery was asked to bake the cake by a gay rights activist, who wanted the cake to include a slogan that said "support gay marriage" along with a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, and the logo of the Queerspace organisation.