By Kevin Henry
The attempt by the DUP to amend Northern Ireland’s equality laws to allow religious business owners to refuse services to LGBT customers if it is “facilitating” an act against their religion is an attempt to enshrine a right to discriminate into law. This attempt to drive society backwards would make it perfectly acceptable under the law for a B&B owner to refuse to cater for a gay couple.
The DUP – who have a long record of opposing gay rights – have tried to say this is about “rebalancing” rights, with Peter Robinson claiming that “[m]ore and more, the balance is tipped against people of faith.” LGBT people in Northern Ireland are still denied the right to adopt, the right to marry and even the right to give blood!
The Socialist Party is completely opposed to religious discrimination, such as the comments by Peter Robinson several months ago that he wouldn’t trust a Muslim. This “conscience” clause, however, is not about defending real religious freedom but giving a small group of business owners the right to deny others their rights.
There is huge opposition to this bill. Over 10,000 have already signed an online petition against it and protests are planned across the North in the lead up to the bill being discussed. Reflecting this, other parties have been forced to say they will block the bill.
Even if this attack on LGBT rights is defeated, we still need a struggle for real equality. This means a fight for equal rights, including in access to marriage and adoption, and a struggle against homophobia in our schools, workplaces and communities. But it’s not just the DUP who are influenced by hardline religious forces. Leading figures in the SDLP, UUP and Alliance have all opposed gay marriage rights and all parties are united in opposing a woman’s right to choose. What is needed is a new political movement of workers and young people to fight for real equality, and against sectarianism and austerity.