Homosexual rights need further protection and ‘harassment’ laws should be introduced to a Bill of Rights, says the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
Smacking should also be banned, but not as part of the Bill of Rights, the Commission says.
The Commission stopped short of recommending a ‘right’ to abortion in the Province, but said the Government should respond to the conclusions of a UN committee on discrimination against women.
The Commission’s proposals come in a report outlining its recommendations for a Bill of Rights and other changes to the law. A Bill of Rights was promised in the Belfast Agreement.
But two of the Commission’s members, Lady Daphne Trimble and DUP representative Jonathan Bell, have publicly distanced themselves from the report. They say the Commission has stepped well beyond its remit.
Receiving the Commission’s report, Northern Ireland Minister Paul Goggins said: “I recognise that there is a diverse range of opinion on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.
“Once Government has had an opportunity to properly consider the advice we will consult publicly on this issue before deciding how to move forward.”
The Commission’s document says “significant opposition” remains in Northern Ireland to homosexual rights and civil partnerships.
It recommends that civil partnerships are given “additional protection” in a Bill of Rights to “help promote respect and equality”.
The Commission says a Bill of Rights should include laws on “harassment motivated by hate on any prohibited ground of discrimination”. This would include sexual orientation and religion.
Similar sexual orientation ‘harassment’ laws were struck down by a High Court judge in Belfast last year because, in part, of concerns that the laws would infringe free speech and religious liberty.
Depending on the wording of a right to be protected from sexual orientation or religious ‘harassment’, such a right could leave Christians vulnerable to legal action if they publicly express the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality or other religions.
The Commission recommends that smacking should be banned. It says this ban should not be part of the Bill of Rights, but is an “additional recommendation”.
It notes the UN’s conclusion that smacking be banned in the UK and says the Government should “respond accordingly”.
The Commission said that abortion was one of the most controversial issues in its public consultation. It decided it would be inappropriate for the matter to be included in a Bill of Rights.
Although the Commission does not recommend a ‘right to abortion’, it also fails to recommend that an unborn child’s right to life be included in a Bill of Rights.
It did, however, recommend that the Government “respond” to the conclusions of a UN Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women, which called for a public consultation on abortion in Northern Ireland.