The decision by the Equality Commission to launch legal action against Ashers Bakery for refusing to print a slogan in support of gay marriage made headlines across the UK and beyond Whereas if the cake had been made there would have been no headlines just a cake, no self righteous purchasing of Ashers goods boosting the McArthurs profits. It has also highlighted the fact that some equality legislation is having an adverse effect nice little boost in profits don't forget on those with religious belief when it comes to the provision of goods and services.
The more recent case where the Catholic Church has had to end its relationship with an adoption services provider has caused further distress. Of course there is yet to be the Northern Ireland Children and Adoption Bill despite the final court ruling in December 2013, our last legislation on this issue was in 1987 and that still is in effect. So the church is actually ending its relationship before a change in legislation. A total of 89 Northern Irish children were adopted in the year 2013-14. Our average duration in care is 2 years 11 months in care compared to 2 yrs 5 mths in England and 2 yrs 4 Mths in Wales. Only 54% are placed for adoption within 12 months from best care decision being made compared with 74% for England. So it would seem even with Church support we have been failing the children who are most important in this decision in terms of time lag.
I believe that this is wrong and there should be legislation that strikes a balance between competing and at times conflicting rights We have this it is called the Equality Act. That is why I am consulting on a Private Member’s Bill as a remedy to this problem. There was consultation on a Sexual Orientation Strategy initially in 2006 which might have lead to guidelines to dealing with these conflicting rights. A second consultation on that was only held this Spring just for reference gerrymandering and procrastination on defining LGBT rights is part of the issue here.
Specifically what is required, and delivered by my Bill, is enhancing the sexual orientation goods and services legislation in order to protect religious service providers How is this enhancing if those of LGB sexual orientation are then denied access to goods and services by religious service provider? and those who want to access services in the context of a religious ethos The problem in Northern Ireland is too many service have different religious ethoses from schools to adoption services, however most high street concerns do not fall into this remit.
My Bill would mean that ‘reasonable accommodation’ would be made in certain tightly defined circumstances At present the Equality Commission case is to determine the rights or wrongs in certain defined situation. The problem is he appears to be tightly defining for certain religious beliefs to be those circumstances. . This would allow our society to make space for difference that encourages a tolerant society allowing people of faith equality of opportunity to contribute and participate fully in our community Can somebody tell me something that people of faith cannot contribute and participate in fully at present?.
It is important to highlight particular cases which would, and equally important, cases which would not be affected by the legislation I propose. I notice all of these are based on seven passages from the bible, but surely personal conscience on such issues should also apply to adulterers, or those living out of wedlock which have far more references in the text book on which this personal conscience is based. Do we need to ask why this is?
It would not mean that an evangelical grocer could refuse to sell apples to a gay man . Selling apples does not involve someone to endorse, promote or facilitate a same-sex relationship in violation of his or her faith identity so there is no conflict.
It would not mean that a Catholic photographer could refuse to take a photograph of recipes created by a bisexual chef. Taking such photographs again would not have the effect of endorsing, promoting or facilitating a same-sex relationship.
However, it would mean that a Muslim printer would not be required to print a book promoting same-sex relationships in violation of his faith identity. Similarly, it would mean that an evangelical photographer would not be required by law to choose between taking photographs of a civil partnership ceremony in violation of their deeply held beliefs or lose their livelihood. Yet at the same time his party is denying those of faith that want to and the state to not endorse such relationships and providing same sex marriages if they want to. His narrow definition of what people of faith want should not also at the same time infringe on what others want.
Given that the nature of faith is that it deals with higher loyalties to God Yes Jesus said give unto Ceasar that which is Ceasars so whoops! it is very likely that when confronted by such a choice many people would rather lose their livelihood than be pressured by the state into violating their faith identity.
By enhancing the law to make space for people of faith to provide services my Bill will respect the rights of service users who want to be able to continue to access services in the context of for example, an evangelical or Catholic faith ethos.
There is no equality for Catholics that want to access adoption services from their Church which will now be denied because it is more important to put the rights of same-sex couples accessing adoption services from everywhere than Catholics somewhere. Catholics can still access adoption services, I personally know of one Catholic couple who have two beautiful daughters through the normal adoption process without resorting to a Catholic only system.
Through this Bill I believe the Northern Ireland Assembly can strike the right balance by pushing equality legislation off balance and to a precipice and I strongly believe it is possible to navigate this difficult area much more effectively than is currently the case I refer the gentleman to the delay in producing a Sexual Orientation Strategy (see above). This Private Member’s Bill can contribute to creating a society that is tolerant and respectful by making reasonable accommodation for people to live their lives according to their conscience but only providing that conscience is based on a rather narrow faith based experience which is not inclusive of all of faith.