A court ruling that a Christian-owned bakery had no right to refuse an order for a gay marriage cake will not prevent a conscience clause bill coming before the Assembly, a Lisburn MLA has said.
A judge found that Ashers breached equality legislation when it told gay rights campaigner Gareth Lee that it could not fulfil his order in 2014.
DUP MLA Paul Givan is consulting on an Assembly bill that would allow people with religious beliefs a limited exemption from certain equality law requirements.
He said his private member’s bill would protect Christians who “do not feel there is space being made for their religious beliefs”.
Following Tuesday’s court ruling, DUP leader Peter Robinson said: “We have been listening to people and I think the term ‘reasonable accommodation’ is now what we would like to frame some legislation around – recognising that there are rights on both sides and therefore there has to be a reasonable accommodation between the two.
Mr Givan said his party leader had no apology to make for last year labelling the commission’s support for the court action “bonkers”.
Speaking outside the court yesterday, the Lagan Valley MLA said: “Peter Robinson has no apology to make. It is the Equality Commission that should apologise for using taxpayers’ money to drag this family through the courts.”
He later added: “Their actions have polarised Northern Ireland. We have people more divided on this issue today, rather than a harmonious society.”
Mr Givan told UTV Live: “The judge has said that religious belief is also of high priority, yet it is to be restricted – you are not allowed to now manifest your religious beliefs in terms of the businesses that you are involved in.
“So we now have a hierarchy of rights. Gay rights are more important than the rights of religious belief.”
Speaking on the same programme, chief equality commissioner Michael Wardlow said: “Let’s separate opinion from fact. This wasn’t a landmark case – this was the judge saying ‘the law on equality legislation is confirmed’.”
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said he was “very disappointed” at the court ruling.
“I believe there are strong grounds for appealing this decision and I would certainly encourage Ashers and those supporting them, including the Christian Institute, to persue such an appeal.
“I recognise that there is a need to ensure that people are protected from discrimination regardless of their background, but equally there is also a need to ensure in a fair and democraatic country, we have protection for freedom of conscience.
“Regardless of the eventual outcome of this case, what we need to do is reach a reasonable accommodation that ensures there is adequate protection for those who wish to exercise their conscience on issues such as gay marriage and at the same time provide protection from discrimination regardless of ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.”