Push for conscience bill after ‘gay cake’ verdict

The DUP's Paul Givan (centre), Edwin Poots (left) and Stephen Moutray pictured outside Belfast court after the Ashers verdict. Pic. Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
The DUP's Paul Givan (centre), Edwin Poots (left) and Stephen Moutray pictured outside Belfast court after the Ashers verdict. Pic. Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Share this article

A court ruling that a Christian-owned bakery had no right to refuse an order for a gay marriage cake will not prevent a conscience clause bill coming before the Assembly, the DUP has said.

On Tuesday, a judge found that Ashers breached equality legislation when it told gay rights campaigner Gareth Lee that it could not fulfil his order in 2014.

DUP MLA Paul Givan is consulting on an Assembly bill that would allow people with religious beliefs a limited exemption from certain equality law requirements.

He said his private member’s bill would protect Christians who “do not feel there is space being made for their religious beliefs”.

Following the court ruling, DUP leader Peter Robinson said: “We have been listening to people and I think the term ‘reasonable accommodation’ is now what we would like to frame some legislation around – recognising that there are rights on both sides and therefore there has to be a reasonable accommodation between the two. So, I think we are not surprised at the outcome, that’s why we had embarked upon the legislative process.”

Mr Givan said his party leader had no apology to make for last year labelling the commission’s support for the court action “bonkers”.

Speaking outside the court on Tuesday, the Lagan Valley MLA said: “Peter Robinson has no apology to make. It is the Equality Commission that should apologise for using taxpayers’ money to drag this family through the courts.”

He later added: “Their actions have polarised Northern Ireland. We have people more divided on this issue today, rather than a harmonious society.”

Mr Givan told UTV Live: “The judge has said that religious belief is also of high priority, yet it is to be restricted – you are not allowed to now manifest your religious beliefs in terms of the businesses that you are involved in.

“So we now have a hierarchy of rights. Gay rights are more important than the rights of religious belief.”

Speaking on the same programme, chief equality commissioner Michael Wardlow said: “Let’s separate opinion from fact. This wasn’t a landmark case – this was the judge saying ‘the law on equality legislation is confirmed’.”

Mr Robinson said earlier: “I’m not terribly surprised to be honest, that’s why we were preparing a legislative alternative. I suspect that there will be an appeal so I don’t want to say any more about the case itself, but in terms of what we were looking to do, I think we have refined over the months the consultation process.”

In a statement, the Ulster Unionist Party said it was “disappointed” the court case took place, saying it was “divisive and has served to increase distrust and prejudice”.

The spokesman added: “If everyone had used a little common sense, this could have been resolved without fuss never mind recourse to the courts. It is common sense, not necessarily more legislation, that we need to deal with these matters.”