Northern Ireland

Equality commission opposed to conscience clause bill

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Media captionDr Michael Wardlow from the Equality Commission has criticised the bill, as BBC News NI Political Correspondent Chris Page reports

The Equality Commission has said it does not support either of the proposed amendments to equality law set out in an assembly private member's bill.

MLA Paul Givan's bill aims to create a legal exemption on grounds of strongly held religious beliefs.

He is seeking to introduce a "conscience clause" into equality law in NI, following legal action taken against a Christian-owned bakery.

The Equality Commission was responding to consultation on the bill.

"We believe that, if introduced, the proposed amendments would significantly weaken protection against discrimination in Northern Ireland for lesbian, gay and bisexual people when accessing goods, facilities and services or buying or renting premises," Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission said.

"These exceptions are targeted solely on the rights protected by the sexual orientation regulations and no equivalent provisions are proposed for other areas of equality law", Dr Wardlow said.

"They are inconsistent with the approach adopted under other equality strands where there is also the potential for competing rights, and with the approach adopted by equality law in other parts of the United Kingdom."

Mr Givan's bill aims to create a legal exemption on grounds of strongly held religious beliefs. He said the law had to be rebalanced.

"The dilemma facing people of faith is the choice of violating their sincerely held beliefs or going out of business," he said.

Mr Givan said the Equality Commission's legal action had "created a hierarchy of rights where all minorities are not to be treated equally".

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