Today Fr Tim Bartlett, who to be fair is to be praised for engaging with Belfast Pride's Hymn and Us debate, issued a statement that doesn't 100% make sense.
"I will be writing today to those groups from the gay community, with whom I have had a very constructive and ongoing engagement in recent years, to say that I am withdrawing my engagement until the right of all people, in this case Christians, to freedom of conscience is vindicated and respected by the Equality Commission and the gay community.
"I also want to know why the chief commissioner of the Equality Commission talked quite openly about the Ashers case during the Gay Pride debate in Belfast but has since claimed he is not free to talk about it in public debate."Now he says he is withdrawing "engagement until the right of all people" to freedom on conscience is vindicated and respected. Of course in between those two cases he adds a caveat.
Having attending Hymn and Us as part of the panel the priest is no doubt aware that there are LGBT Christians, some of them within his own Roman Catholic Church. So will he also be disengaging with Rome and the senior clergy here in Ireland until the rights of all Catholics, in this case LGBT members, to freedom of conscience is vindicated and respected?
What about the gay Presbyterians like myself, will he stop engaging with the PCI on the same basis? You see even allowing Christians to have a freedom of conscience the issue is which section of them have the right take on what their conscience tells them.
The whole issue of course stems from the refusal, after original agreement, to supply a cake with a Marriage Equality logo on it by Ashers Bakery. There is under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006:
Goods, facilities or services
5 (1) It is unlawful for any person concerned with the provision (for payment or not) of goods, facilities or services to the public or a section of the public to discriminate against a person who seeks to obtain or use those goods, facilities or services —
(a) by refusing or deliberately omitting to provide him with any of them; or
(b) by refusing or deliberately omitting to provide him with goods, facilities or services of the same quality, in the same manner and on the same terms as are normal in his case in relation to other members of the public or (where the person seeking belongs to a section of the public) to other members of that section.
(2) It is unlawful for any person concerned with the provision of goods, facilities or services as mentioned in paragraph (1), in relation to such provision, to subject to harassment —
(a) a person who seeks to obtain or use those goods, facilities or services; or
(b) a person to whom he provides those goods, facilities and services.
(3) The following are examples of the facilities and services mentioned in paragraph (1) —
(g)the services of any profession or trader, or any local or other public authority.<
There is a difference between an individuals conscience and a public company's legal requirements.
For example a Quaker business owner cannot say I don't agree with war and therefore will refuse to pay my proportion of corporation tax and VAT that the Government will spent on funding such a war.
Nor can a Free Presbyterian business owner here in Northern Ireland without the proportion of expenditure on either the Catholic maintained or Integrated Education funding that they may not support.
The conscience of the business is to uphold the law of the land, Jesus himself when tested on this by the Pharisees said render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's. Ashers as well as their general bread and cake making business also make bespoke cakes.
Clause 5 (1)b clearly states "by refusing or deliberately ommitting to provide him with good, facilities or services of the same quality,in the same manner amd on the same terms as are normal in his case in relation to other member of the public" a company acts unlawfully. So is this what Father Bartlett really means? That he is withdrawing engagement so that firms that act unlawfully.