Amnesty International has rejected both “the premise and proposals” contained in the DUP's consultation paper on the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill and called for the draft law to be withdrawn.
The Private Members’ Bill has been proposed by Paul Givan, a DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and has been backed by party leader and First Minister, Peter Robinson.
If the measure becomes law, warned Amnesty, it would undermine existing equality protections and allow for the refusal of goods or services to gay and lesbian people on the grounds of strongly-held religious beliefs.
In its written response to the DUP, submitted today in advance of the end of the consultation exercise, Amnesty International says:
“Amnesty International rejects both the premise and the proposals contained in the consultation paper on the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill.
The paper describes the proposed Amendments as the solution to “clashing rights”. In Amnesty’s view, the proposals are, instead, a recipe for significant reduction in rights protections.
“Amnesty does not accept that there is a need for a change in the law along the lines proposed in the paper.
“The existing regulations are compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights, which balances the right to manifest religious beliefs and the rights of individuals not to be discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation. Amnesty does not consider there to be any necessity for these regulations to be so amended.
“Amnesty considers the proposed Amendments to be in fundamental conflict with the purpose of hard won anti-discrimination protections in Northern Ireland. They would lead to a two-tier system of protection against discrimination, where those with same-sex sexual orientation could find themselves barred from using certain businesses.
“The proposals should be withdrawn and the proposers should recognise that a reasonable balance of rights is already provided for in law.”
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said:
“This change to the law is not only unnecessary, it is deeply unhelpful. The law already strikes a fair balance between the human right to freedom of religion and the human right not to suffer discrimination.
“The DUP should withdraw this draft bill and should concentrate on tackling the inequalities already faced by members of the LGBTI community here, rather than adding to the discrimination they face.”