‘Rush job to force same-sex marriage on NI leaves free speech vulnerable’, warns The Christian Institute
– The education sector, religious groups and the wider public square are all at risk says Institute Director Colin Hart.
The Christian group behind the landmark ‘gay cake’ case is warning that free speech will be left largely unprotected if Westminster goes ahead with its plan to impose same-sex marriage on the Province.
The warning came from The Christian Institute, which backed Ashers Baking Company in its successful Supreme Court appeal against being required to decorate a cake with a pro-same sex marriage message.
Institute Director Colin Hart highlighted that the speed at which same-sex marriage has been dropped on Northern Ireland means there has been “no consultation and no consideration given on how to protect those who respectfully disagree with the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex relationships”.
“When marriage was redefined in the rest of the United Kingdom, this was done so in the face of overwhelming public opposition. But at least it was done following detailed consideration over many months. That time and public pressure ensured there were some free speech safeguards. What MPs have done this evening offers little or nothing in that respect.
“There is a whole host of legislation that needs to change. Free speech protections that have been won over many years must be put in place in Northern Ireland. There need to be equivalent protections for Northern Ireland to those in the Equality Act 2010. If this legislation is to go ahead then parallels to the legislative protections that exist in the rest of the UK must apply to Northern Ireland.
“The law in England and Wales says that churches and ministers ‘cannot be compelled by any means’ to perform a same-sex wedding. Similarly, in Scotland the legislation is clear that no duty is imposed on religious celebrants to be involved.
“In other words the law protects those involved in weddings from being required to go against their conscience. Services, such as the provision of council-owned facilities cannot be refused to them because they oppose same-sex marriage. Churches are flourishing in Northern Ireland but they would very quickly become the least protected in the UK.
“In the education sphere, both the Department for Education and the Equality and Human Rights Commission issued guidance that helped to protect teachers who dissent from supporting same-sex marriage.
“More widely, Public Order legislation allows the freedom to express views without fear of prosecution. There is freedom to disagree.
“In forcing this legislation through MPs are demonstrating their ignorance of the lessons learned from the rest of the UK.
“Even with these protections in place we have seen street preachers arrested for expressing a biblical view on same-sex relationships and teachers worried for their careers as they are pressed for their personal views by hostile Ofsted inspectors.
“And the all too recent experience of social work student Felix Ngole should certainly give them pause for thought.
“Without these protections what can the thousands of people in Northern Ireland who oppose same-sex marriage expect?
“They have seen how the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland went out of its way to hound Ashers Baking Company through the courts. It took the UK Supreme Court to put them in their place. Such a poorly thought through piece of legislation is in danger of giving them free rein to cause trouble for a lot more ordinary people.”
Mr Hart made the remarks after the House of Commons earlier voted to require the Government to use ‘Henry VIII powers’ to force Northern Ireland to redefine marriage unless a Northern Ireland Executive has been formed by 21 October.
MPs voted by 383 to 73 in favour of Merseyside MP Conor McGinn’s amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill. This was intended to be an administrative Bill concerned with timings for a possible new Assembly at Stormont.
In addition to its involvement in the ‘gay cake’ case, The Christian Institute has been a key player in introducing a number of legal protections for free speech, including Section 5 of the Public Order Act and Section 1 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014.