Equality Commission: Northern Ireland’s ‘conscience’ bill would harm gays

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The Equality Commission has spoken out against a planned ‘conscience clause’ bill in Northern Ireland, that would permit anti-gay discrimination.

DUP minister Paul Givan has tabled a bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly that would effectively exempt people with ‘strongly held’ religious convictions from equality laws – allowing them to discriminate against gay people.

First Minister Peter Robinson has backed the bill – but all other major parties are opposed to it.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has today responded to plans for a ‘Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill’.

Dr Michael Wardlow of the Equality Commission wrote: “The Commission does not support either of the proposed amendments to Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 (“Sexual Orientation Regulations”) as set out in the draft Bill.

“We believe that, if introduced, the proposed amendments would significantly weaken protection against discrimination in Northern Ireland for lesbian, gay and bisexual people when accessing goods, facilities and services or buying or renting premises.

“These exceptions are targeted solely on the rights protected by the sexual orientation Regulations and no equivalent provisions are proposed for other areas of equality law.

“They are inconsistent with the approach adopted under other equality strands where there is also the potential for competing rights, and with the approach adopted by equality law in other parts of the United Kingdom.

“There is the potential for the LGB individual to experience injury to feelings or distress as a result of the subsequent denial of the service and/or inconvenience as a result of the subsequent withdrawal of the service.”

Hundreds of people attended a rally against the law in Belfast last week.