Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Fry says DUP conscience clause bill is 'sick'

"The religious right is twisting truth to present themselves as victims", said the actor

By Claire Cromie

Stephen Fry has labelled the DUP's conscience clause bill as "sick" and urged people to sign a petition against it.

The Democratic Unionist Party wants to introduce a new clause in Northern Ireland's equality laws that would allow businesses to refuse services to a customer if it is against their religious beliefs.

Critics have reacted angrily, claiming it is legalising discrimination, and a petition has been set up to stop the Freedom of Conscience Bill being passed.

And now it has received support from an influential backer - the gay presenter, comedian and writer Stephen Fry.

He tweeted on Wednesday: "Please sign this: once again the religious right twisting truth to present themselves as victims. Sick."

Fry has repeatedly expressed his opposition to organised religion, and has attacked church teachings on sexuality.

'Gay cake'

The Freedom of Conscience Bill was prompted by the threat of legal action against a Belfast Christian bakery business, which became know as the "gay cake" row.

Ashers is facing a court battle over its decision to refuse to make a cake that carried a pro-gay marriage slogan.

The Equality Commission, which has taken the case against the business on behalf of the customer whose order was declined, has alleged the bakery's stance was in breach of equality legislation.

Paul Givan, a DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said he believed this was wrong and wants the law to be "rebalanced".

"Gay rights, and the right to have those rights endorsed and promoted by everyone, is more important than the rights of Christians to live according to their conscience," he said.

The bill has been backed by the First Minister, Peter Robinson.

'Petition'

The "Stop the 'conscience clause' bill" petition was started on November 23 by Omagh woman Dervla McGaughey.

In just a matter of weeks it has gained over 10,000 signatures.

Stephen Fry was in Dublin last weekend to present Irish drag queen Panti Bliss with a People of the Year Award for her courage and defiance in fighting for freedom of expression and gay rights.

He has a Twitter following of of 8.4 million and is repeatedly named on lists of the world's most influential celebrities and LGBT people.

What does the proposed bill mean?

  • Paul Givan says the focus of his Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill is “making space for rights that clash”. He says it aims to “make space for providers” and proposes that businesses may refuse a situation where they feel they are required to “endorse, promote or facilitate a same-sex sexual relationship in violation of his/her faith identity”.
  • For example, a Catholic adoption agency could refuse to place a child with a same-sex couple, a Muslim printer could refuse to print a book promoting same-sex sexual relationships and an evangelical photographer would not be required to choose between taking photographs at a civil partnership ceremony and losing their livelihood.
  • But, Mr Givan says, an evangelical grocer could not refuse to sell an apple to a gay man, or a Muslim printer could not refuse to print a brochure publicising coffee tables made by a lesbian cabinet maker.
  • The Rainbow Coalition, which supports gay rights, has claimed that under the Bill restaurants could deny a same-sex couple, a mortgage provider could deny a mortgage to a same-sex couple, and hoteliers could deny a room to a same sex couple as all could be seen as endorsing or facilitating same-sex relations.
  • The draft Bill has been published on the DUP website. The party is inviting responses about its contents to be submitted to its headquarters on Dundela Avenue in east Belfast. The consultation will close at 5pm on Friday, February 27.

Read more:

Editor's Viewpoint: A conscience clause is absurd

Gay cake aftermath: Sinn Fein are ready to torpedo DUP's conscience clause 

Equality law reforms proposed 

Rainbow Project accuses DUP of plan to 'legalise discrimination against LGBT people' in Northern Ireland with conscience clause 

Gerard McCarthy: I feel embarrassed to be from Northern Ireland, says actor angered by DUP 'conscience clause' bill 

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