Rainbow Project blasts DUP over ‘licence to discriminate’ against gays bill

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Campaigners have attacked plans by the DUP to introduce a conscience clause – which would allow religious people to ignore equality laws and discriminate against gay people in Northern Ireland.

Ashers Baking Company in Belfast made headlines this year when it refused the request of a gay rights activist for a cake showing the message “Support Gay Marriage”, above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie.

The Northern Ireland Equality Commission said the decision of Ashers broke anti-discrimination laws.

But yesterday the DUP launched a consultation on a Private Members Bill that would allow people with strongly held religious views to discriminate against gay people based on their “conscience”.

It was tabled by Lagan Valley DUP MLA Paul Givan. DUP First Minister Peter Robinson gave his backing to the bill in a speech at Stormont.

The Belfast Telegraph reports 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.”

Northern Ireland’s largest LGBT support organisation has strongly attacked the plans.

The Rainbow Project said it will “strenuously oppose” what it described as “this unnecessary and irrational form of discrimination”.

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 O’Doherty continued: “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.”

He concluded: “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.”