Sunday, 23 November 2014

Givan's Conscience Clause

Paul Givan MLA has said he is planning to bring forward a private members bill to introduce a conscience clause into Northern Ireland legislation, saying that it will enhance "equality legislation".

He goes on to say:

"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."
Now the word affirm means:
  1. To declare positively or firmly, maintain to be true
  2. To support or uphold the validity of, confirm
This is obviously a knee-jerk reaction to the Ashers case, because Givan goes on to say that introducing this Bill will avoid other similar legal cases. But in Northern Ireland that is also the role that is served by case law, it sets the precedent and determines the boundaries of existing laws. 

Concerning of course is that once again, as with most homophobic legislation, it reduces being LGBT to a lifestyle, therefore implying it is a choice. We don't call being Chinese a lifestyle or being disabled a lifestyle yet these are among the other groups that are covered by equality legislation.

Polygamy is a lifestyle which you can legislate either against or for: being LGBT is not. Of course there is the matter that some argue that the Ashers cake is not about the fact that it was an LGBT customer, but supporting a LGBT campaign. The case law from the Equality Commission will set out to determine if this is indirect discrimination of LGBT people or merely refusing a political message. That is a fine line and a grey area that needs to be established independently and not by politicians with personal conflicts of interest.

Any bill coming before the Assembly would have to pass an equality audit to make sure it met the requirements of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act. The way this is worded at the moment would appear to be an Orwellian "all 'consciences' are equal, but some are more equal than other". I would fully expect any such bill to fail such a audit. But if it does pass and comes before the Assembly I expect there to be enough right thinking, equality supporting MLAs to table a petition of concern on the vote and then for it to fail on cross community support as it would undoubtedly fail to gain the required nationalist support.

What would happen if the conscience clause does come into being? Looking at the way that Givan's statement is worded and the way similar laws have operated in the Sourthern United States some Christian business owners will start to refuse to serve any obvious LGBT couples or people, because in the words of Girvan "they no longer have to affirm that particular lifestyle."

That Mr Givan is not equality, that is actually intolerance.

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