Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Fry revels in his run-in with DUP as call to oppose conscience clause gains support

By Joanne Sweeney

A gay rights group has called on the public to follow influential actor Stephen Fry in opposing the DUP-led conscience clause amendment Bill.

The Rainbow Project last night urged individuals and organisations in Northern Ireland "to make it clear to the DUP that we will never go back to the days when homophobic attitudes justified discrimination" as they welcomed the gay actor's intervention.

Yesterday Fry branded the DUP as "bigots" in his latest comment in a heated Twitter debate.

He criticised the proposed amendment as "sick" when he urged his 8.1m followers to sign the online petition against the Bill in a tweet two days ago.

It said: "Once again the religious right twisting truth to present themselves as victims".

Referring to media coverage, the outspoken actor tweeted to one pro-clause supporter here: "To be "slammed" by the bigots of the DUP is to be bathed in light and kissed by angels. I am content."

If passed, the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill from DUP Assembly member Paul Givan will protect the religious beliefs of people who refuse to give a service to a customer if the resulting act would go against their beliefs.

The Bill stems from the controversy which arose when Belfast bakery Ashers were taken to court by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland after the owners refused to provide a cake with slogans supporting marriage for gay people.

Fry waded into the conscience clause bill debate for the third time yesterday when he linked it to the historic issue of slavery.

"So "equality" is to allow the temporary views of the religious right to deny the freedoms of others? Slavery 200 years ago?"

However, Mr Givan, the DUP assembly member who introduced the amendment, insisted: "This isn't a bill to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of sexual orientation and I oppose any such discrimination. This is about protecting people's deeply- held faith from having to support something which would violate that faith."

John O'Doherty, director of the Rainbow Project, said he was pleased that someone "as universally respected" as Stephen Fry had joined the debate.

"It is the job of all of us to speak out where we see injustice and discrimination. We hope that others will follow Mr Fry's lead on this important issue," he added.

"We encourage individuals, business leaders and elected representatives to make it clear to the DUP that we will never go back to the days when homophobic attitudes justified discrimination."

However, Mr Givan said: "To force people of faith to abandon their beliefs isn't equality but creates a hierarchy of rights where the rights of the gay community are being placed above the right to freedom of religion."

Quotes

"This isn't a bill to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of sexual orientation and I oppose any such discrimination. This is about protecting people's deeply held faith from having to support something which would violate that faith."

- DUP MLA Paul Givan

"The DUP have shown nothing but bias in this process both by the commentary within and the quality of their consultation as well as the fact that they have made no efforts to engage with the LGBT community on this matter - the community who would be most affected by any change in the law."

- John O'Doherty, director of the Rainbow Project

Belfast Telegraph

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