Churches try to overturn gay discrimination laws
The High Court in Belfast has reserved judgement on a legal challenge to new laws protecting gay people from discrimination.
A coalition of Christian groups had been granted permission to seek a judicial review regarding new gay equality laws in Northern Ireland.
After six days, Mr Justice Weatherup said it would take him ‘some time’ to come to a judgement.
The Christian Institute has led calls to rescind the Sexual Orientation Regulations, claiming they were rushed through and constitute an attack on freedom of conscience.
Colin Hart, Director of the Christian Institute, said when the judicial review was granted:
“The Regulations bear all the hallmarks of a rushed time-scale. They almost appear to establish a right for homosexuals not to be disagreed with. They would cover a conversation in a Christian bookshop or a pastoral conversation with a church minister.
“The homosexual harassment provision is so broadly drafted that it nullifies what partial exemptions churches are given.
“A minister can say to a practising homosexual (as he would an adulterer), ‘I’m sorry, you can’t be a member of my church until you repent and turn to Christ,’ but his explanation could be the subject of a harassment claim if the individual is offended.
“A teacher who says that sex is only for marriage could be accused of harassment by a pupil sympathetic to gay rights – and this would also apply to denominational schools.”
It follows opposition from within the Democratic Unionist Party to the law.
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Junior minister Ian Paisley Jnr has faced calls for his resignation after he told a magazine he finds gay people repulsive.
In January DUP peer Lord Morrow tried, and failed, to block the regulations in the House of Lords.
The churches and Christian charities taking the legal action are, The Christian Institute; The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland; The Congregational Union of Ireland; The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ireland; The Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland; The Fellowship of Independent Methodist Churches; and Christian Camping International (a Christian charity specialising in camping and conferences).
The Roman Catholic Church has also supported the legal challenge, fearful of the effect of the regulations on their schools.
The new regulations outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods, services and education on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Fines range between £500 and £15,000 but up to £25,000 for repeated breaches