Belfast Telegraph

Conscience clause Bill: Law seeks to outlaw discrimination by overriding beliefs

Editor's Viewpoint

Let us make our position clear from the outset. This newspaper does not support discrimination against any group. But it does have serious reservations about how two companies have been treated for refusing to take orders which they regarded as celebrating gay marriage or civil partnerships.

The companies - one of which has been brought to court by the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland - argue that fulfilling the orders would have run contrary to their strongly held religious objections to gay marriage or civil partnerships.

It is accepted that both companies - Ashers bakers in Belfast and Beulah Print and Design company in Drogheda - are run by people of deep, genuine faith and that their objections to the orders are motivated solely by those beliefs.

The question raised by these two controversies is whether it is morally right that the law seeks to outlaw discrimination against one group of people by overriding the sincere and entirely legal beliefs of another group. If churches cannot be compelled to perform gay marriages, or even be the venues for civil partnerships, it seems wrong that individuals who share those same religious views should end up in the dock.

Today, we highlight the absurdity of the anti-discrimination laws. We asked eight printing firms if they would print material which could be interpreted as glorifying two convicted terrorists. All of them agreed.

They had broken no law in so doing. Yet, victims of those terrorists might argue that it would be a morally bankrupt move. They would have no legal redress if such material appeared, yet their hurt would be just as painful as that suffered by the gay couples whose orders were rejected.

A DUP MLA has suggested introducing a conscience clause into equality legislation as a way of upholding the rights of those with strong religious convictions.

It won't become law, but it may strike a chord with quite a wide section of society.

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