Belfast Telegraph

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

"This is just updating ‘No dogs, No blacks, No Irish’ to include ‘No gays'."

By Amanda Ferguson

Northern Ireland's largest LGBT support organisation says it is saddened by proposals for a conscience clause in equality legislation it believes is discriminatory.

In the wake of the Ashers Bakery cake row the DUP today launched a consultation on a Private Members Bill to introduce a conscience clause within equality legislation it says will accommodate people with strongly held religious views.

Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan claims a conscience clause should be considered to protect people including Christians who have "deeply and genuinely held beliefs on certain issues", but the Rainbow Project says Mr Givan "clearly has not considered the implications of his license to discriminate legislation".

The DUP representative believes "reasonable accommodation should be introduced to prevent people of faith being hindered in their work by repressive legal constraints" and believes the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill would address this.

This comes after Newtownabbey-based Ashers Baking Company was told it discriminated against an equal rights activist by declining to include a slogan on a cake that said 'support gay marriage'.

The order was originally accepted by employees but the bakery later cancelled it.

The DUP has objected to the Equality Commission's decision to take a civil action against Ashers in the courts.

The launch of Mr Givan's Private Members Bill took place at Stormont today.

The event, chaired by DUP minister Arlene Foster, was addressed by First Minister Peter Robinson and Peter Lynas from the Evangelical Alliance.

Mr Robinson said: "I want to see a society in Northern Ireland which is tolerant of everyone’s views.

"That tolerance must include provisions to ensure that those with deeply held religious views are protected.

"I was delighted to see people from a wide range of different background present at the launch, as well as representatives from a number of political parties.

"This is nothing progressive or liberal about a society which sees people with deeply held religious beliefs unable to act within their conscience and this Bill is something which should be supported by everyone in society who supports freedoms which are so fundamental."

Following the launch, John O’Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project said: "We are saddened to see, that when the Northern Ireland Executive should be focusing on publishing its long overdue sexual orientation strategy, members are trying to find new ways to discriminate against LGB people.

"The fact that this proposed legislation will only be used to discriminate against LGB people shows that it is not motivated by a desire to protect those of religious belief but by a hostility to LGB people and their hard-won rights.

"This is just updating 'No dogs, No blacks, No Irish' to include 'No gays'.

"Mr Givan claims that his bill will allow believers to deny goods and services to LGB people when it ‘promotes or facilitates same sex relations’.

"Let us explain to Mr Givan what this means:

Restaurants could deny a same sex couple a table as this could be facilitating same sex relations

A mortgage provider could deny  a mortgage to a same sex couple as it would be facilitating same-sex relations

Hoteliers could deny a room to a same sex couple as it would be facilitating same-sex relations

"The examples are countless.

"Mr Givan clearly has not considered the implications of his license to discriminate legislation.

"Ensuring LGB people can access goods and services without discrimination is good for business, good for the economy and good for Northern Ireland’s reputation with investors."

Mr O'Doherty also said The Rainbow Project will "strenuously oppose" what it described as "this unnecessary and irrational form of discrimination".

‘If the DUP and Paul Givan actually wanted to address the tensions felt by religious people towards LGB people they would be working with our community and faith-based communities to encourage good relations and mutual understanding as well as ensuring the immediate publication of a sexual orientation strategy," he added.

‘The Rainbow Project will strenuously oppose this proposed license to discriminate and we call on business, civic and religious leaders to stand with us against this unnecessary and irrational form of discrimination."

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