The Roman Catholic Church in Northern Ireland has lent its support to the principle behind a Bill to introduce a conscience clause in the Province.
A delegation led by Bishop Noel Treanor discussed the plans with DUP MLA Paul Givan – who has launched a consultation on the Private Member’s Bill – and DUP leader Peter Robinson.
Givan is hoping to amend equality legislation in order to make reasonable accommodation for people with sincere and deeply-held religious beliefs.
Bishop Treanor said there is a “real problem here that needs to be addressed.
“Our laws as they stand are having an unjust and disproportionate impact on those of religious faith.”
“Is it just to have a situation where one group of people are told ‘you are out’ of a particular business or ‘you need not apply’ for a particular job or that ‘you may not apply for public funds’, simply because they hold the perfectly rational belief that marriage is between a woman and a man and that sexual relationships are reserved in their dignity and purpose for this form of married relationship?
“The truth is that such prejudice and discrimination against any other category of people in our society would not be tolerated and public representatives have a responsibility to ensure that discrimination against those with perfectly rational religious views will not be tolerated either.”
The Roman Catholic delegation said after the meeting that the Bill would need to be carefully worded in order to prevent spurious claims of discrimination on the grounds of conscience.
Givan is hoping to introduce a conscience clause in light of the Ashers Baking Company case, involving a Christian family facing court for refusing to provide a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.
Lawyers for the bakery deny that they breached any laws, but a conscience clause would help to prevent similar cases being brought in the future against people with firmly-held religious views.
The consultation closes on 27 February.