The gay community in Northern Ireland is to hold a series of campaign events in order to derail a plan to make discrimination against Christians illegal. The groups are angry at a proposal by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to stop incidents where Christians can be sacked for refusing to officiate over gay marriages.
The proposal from the DUP’s Paul Givan MLA, is currently out for consultation and has already been attacked by the left-wing comedian Stephen Fry. There was also a major rally in Belfast against the proposal over the weekend, with many more planned before the “conscience clause” goes before the Stormont Assembly.
Givan first came up with the idea of the new rules after a bakery in the province was threatened because the owners refused to bake a pro-gay marriage cake. Last year Ashers Bakery staff accidentally took the order from a gay rights group but the McArthur family who own the company refused to make it. They are now being taken to court by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, a body established to prevent sectarian discrimination.
When he first mooted the idea Paul Givan told the BBC: “This clause will enhance equality legislation… Equality is about ensuring that everybody in society is allowed to live out their lives. We now are heading towards a community where it’s not just about live and let live – people are now saying, ‘you need to affirm my particular lifestyle and if that goes against your conscience, you have to do that’.
“That’s not equality; that’s intolerance.”
Plans to protect Christians were given an unexpected boost last week from the Council of Europe, which voted to support a report into discrimination by Moldavian MP Valeriu Ghiletchi. The report suggested a “reasonable accommodation” be sought rather than seeing Christians fired for refusing to go against their religion.
The report included the example of Nadia Eweida, a member of BA staff, who had to go all the way to the European Court of Human rights to protect her right to wear a small crucifix.
Speaking after the debate into the report DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: “The outcome of this decision is hugely significant and should be considered carefully by everyone in Northern Ireland, especially the Equality Commission as it continues with its persecution of the Christian owners of Ashers Bakery through the Courts.
“Northern Ireland is in danger of becoming a cold house for people of faith and a place of religious intolerance in the public square. As other Parliamentarians in Europe move towards a progressive society that makes reasonable accommodation for differences in communities, Northern Ireland could become out of step with the rest of Europe on this issue.
“The report is timely as my colleague Paul Givan MLA is taking forward a consultation on a ‘conscience clause’ which seeks the reasonable accommodation the Council of Europe is calling for across member states of European Council.” So far the Human Right Commission has refused to back down in the case of Ashers Bakery.
Mr Givan’s clause to protect Christians is opposed by Amnesty International and other Northern Irish Parties like Sinn Fein/IRA.