LGBT activists take to Northern Ireland streets over ‘conscience clause’

Protests over bill that equality campaigners say will lead to discrimination

Equality activists have taken to the streets of Belfast, Derry and Newry in Northern Ireland to demonstrate against the DUP's proposed conscience clause.

Campaigners from The Rainbow Project, the North's largest LGBT group, organised today's protest rallies as they believe Paul Givan MLA's proposed legislation would allow for anti-gay discrimination.

Mr Givan says the Conscience Clause Amendment Bill proposes to change Northern Ireland’s Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in order to “protect those with deeply held religious beliefs”.

But The Rainbow Project says the proposed legislation would grant special rights for people of religious belief, and deny access to goods, facilities and services on the grounds of sexual orientation.


Singer Brian Kennedy was among those to address the hundreds in attendance at today's rally outside Belfast City Hall. The Belfast-born singer told The Irish Times the "so called 'conscience clause' is a disgusting hark back to the 1980s when Thatcher attempted Clause 28." The singer said that DUP leader Peter Robinson and others backing the clause should be ashamed of themselves.

“It is an attack on LGBT human rights and ironically the only thing that’s truly in the closet is the hatred, cowardice and inhumanity of these people towards the LGBT community and their friends and families in Northern Ireland,” Mr Kennedy said.

“Get out of my gay life”

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International programme director for Northern Ireland, said the proposal, launched for consultation in December, is "not a conscience clause, it is a discrimination clause".

“This is not about freedom of religion, this is about the freedom to treat a section of our population as second class citizens,” Mr Corrigan said.

“This change to the law is not welcome and it is not needed . . . The law already strikes a fair balance between the human right to freedom of religion and the human right not to suffer discrimination.”

Mr Corrigan also called on Peter Robinson to publish Stormont’s delayed sexual orientation strategy.

“Northern Ireland’s first minister should concentrate on eradicating the inequalities already faced by members of the LGBTI community, rather than lending his support to a further discriminatory law,” he said.

“He could start by publishing the long overdue sexual orientation strategy, which could help tackle the underlying homophobia in this society.”

‘Licence to discriminate’

Rainbow Project director John O’Doherty said people are “angry that elected representatives are attempting to create a licence to discriminate”.

“We know where this kind of legislation leads . . . It leads to signs in windows saying that gay people are not welcome and we cannot allow this to happen.

“The rights of LGBT people in Northern Ireland have been hard won and will not be taken away from us.

"It is a damning indictment of the Northern Ireland Assembly that, should this legislation be passed, it will be the first piece of legislation passed by the Assembly which directly affects the rights of LGBT people.

“Instead of being positive legislation which contributes to greater inclusion and protection for LGBT people, it will actively remove their rights to be treated with dignity and respect.”