Over a thousand people have attended a protest against a planned ‘conscience clause’ bill, that would permit anti-gay discrimination.

DUP minister Paul Givan has tabled a bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly that would effectively exempt people with ‘strongly held’ religious convictions from equality laws – allowing them to discriminate against gay people.

LGBT group The Rainbow Project held protests to condemn the plans, with hundreds of people attending a central rally in Belfast city centre.

A number of politicians, including Naomi Long of Alliance, Gerry Kelly of Sinn Féin and Alex Attwood of the SDLP spoke at the protest.

John O’Doherty of The Rainbow Project told UTV: “We believe this conscience clause will create a licence to discriminate for those who oppose the LGBT people here in Northern Ireland.

“We don’t believe we should be treated as second-class citizens. We want to ensure equality for our entire community and we’re looking forward to many people across Belfast, Derry and Newry standing in solidarity with us today in opposition to this draconian legislation.”

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International added: “What is proposed is not a conscience clause, it is a discrimination clause.

“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.

“Northern Ireland’s First Minister should concentrate on eradicating inequalities already faced by members of the LGBTI community here, rather than lending his support to a discriminatory new law.

“He could start by publishing Stormont’s long overdue sexual orientation strategy, which could help tackle homophobia in Northern Ireland society.”