The Christian Institute has called for reasonable accommodation to be written into equality law, after the disappointing ruling against Ashers Baking Company.
In a public debate this week, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at the Institute, Simon Calvert, said the Ashers case demonstrates that equality law is taking away vital freedoms.
He argued that an alteration to the law could result in a fairer outcome for cases like Ashers.
During the debate, organised by current affairs magazine Spiked, Mr Calvert proposed that in the “tiny minority of cases where there is a clash of rights”, the court should be “obliged to go through a careful process of assessing and balancing the competing rights, to see whether reasonable accommodation can be made for both sides”.
If this is done, he argued, cases like that of Ashers, the Bulls and Lillian Ladele “might sometimes result in a fairer and arguably more humane outcome”.
Last month, Ashers Baking Company lost its appeal against a County Court ruling, which said it had directly discriminated against customer Gareth Lee by declining to decorate a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.
Bed and Breakfast owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull were ordered to pay damages of £3,600 to a same-sex couple, for declining to provide them with a double room.
And marriage registrar Lillian Ladele was forced out of her job after she said her conscience could not allow her to carry out civil partnerships.
Mr Calvert went on to stress the importance of respecting sincerely-held beliefs, saying: “If we’re talking about respecting conscience, we’re talking about respecting something that’s important. It’s not a whim, it’s not a prejudice dressed up, it’s a real, deeply-held belief.”
He added: “If equality law is causing injustice and misery. If it’s taking away freedom of speech and freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, then it should be changed.”
This week, it emerged that Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, John Larkin QC, will seek to refer the Ashers case to the UK Supreme Court.
Mr Larkin is questioning the validity of the laws used against the bakery.
The move is separate to any appeal by the McArthur family, who own and run Ashers. The family are still considering their legal options.
Responding to an enquiry by the Belfast Telegraph, a spokesman for the Attorney General confirmed that he was taking the case further.
She added: “I can confirm that an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court has been listed for hearing on November 22.”