On Thursday 18th December QUB Sinn Fein launched an anti-Conscience Clause petition, at Queen’s University Students’ Union, with the support of QUB SDLP and QUB Alliance Party.
The Conscience Clause Bill was proposed at the Assembly by the Democratic Unionist Party, who want the new clause to be included as part of Northern Ireland’s equality laws, to enable businesses to refuse service to customers if it is against their religious beliefs.
The Bill was prompted following legal action against a Belfast Christian bakery which refused to make a cake that carried a pro-gay marriage slogan. Ashers Bakery declined an order from a gay rights activist, seeking a cake that carried a pro-gay marriage slogan. Legal action has been taken against the bakery by the Equality Commission who has alleged the bakery’s stance was in breach of equality legislation.
The DUP MLA, Paul Givan, who proposed this Private Members Bill told the Belfast Telegraph that the legal action against Ashers was wrong, and that the law needs to be “rebalanced”. He went on to say, “Gay rights, and the right to have those rights endorsed and promoted by everyone, is more important than the rights of Christians to live according to their conscience.”
In the final week of term when many were getting prepared for the arrival of Santa Clause, QUB Sinn Fein initiated a petition against the Conscience Clause, at Queen’s University Students’ Union, and were supported in their efforts by QUBSDLP and QUB Alliance Party.
Chair of QUBSF, Collette McAllister said “we are delighted to have been joined by QUB SDLP in our endeavours to show that the student body is absolutely opposed to the introduction of this bill, which would quite simply promote discrimination of members of the LGBT+ community. We call on all parties and groups to oppose this regressive legislation and act to support the cause of equality for the embattled LGBT+ community.”
Shannon Downey a member of QUB SDLP echoed these sentiments. “If this (bill) comes into effect, this clause will be a serious infringement of the rights of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. It is quite frankly shameful that DUP politicians think it is okay to try and completely remove the rights of the LGBT community”, she said.
Anti-conscience Clause supporter and QUB Alliance Youth Chair, Stephen Donnelly, said that he was more than happy to sign the petition, due to his belief that “the proposed legislation has the potential to undermine equality law that offers protection to some of the most marginalised groups in our community.”
In response to the petition launched at QUBSU, Chair of the DUP Branch at QUB (Democratic Unionist Association), Jack Patterson stated, “Opponents of this bill are trying to whip up a frenzy, despite the fact they are missing what is in it. The proposed legislation is not attempting to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation.
It is focused on allowing businesses to opt out of a situation where they feel they are required to endorse a same-sex relationship in violation of an individual’s faith identity.
Overall, we must recognise that the bill can contribute to building a society that is tolerant and respectful by making reasonable accommodation for individuals to live their lives in line with their conscience. Essentially, it is trying to create a society where everyone’s rights can be equally upheld and balanced.”
Young Unionist Chair, Sky Aughey, told the Scoop that in the case of the Conscience Clause Bill “It’s important we respect everyone’s ideas. However the particular wording of this proposal is worrying in its scope and limits, who knows where the line will be drawn.”
Some students at QUB have questioned why political party youth wings are lobbying on this issue. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, told the scoop, “I think this petition is a total waste of time. It’s unlikely that this Private Members Bill is even going to pass at Stormont because someone will eventually lodge a petition of concern which will completely blow the thing out of the water. I’d much rather see youth wings lobby more stringently on issues such as DEL cuts, which are an issue which are going to have serious implications for students.”
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