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Showing posts from February, 2015

NI conscience proposal may have unintended consequences

The Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland is proposing an amendment to existing equality regulations in Northern Ireland. This relatively short amendment would allow a person in business to refuse on grounds of sexual orientation to provide goods or services or the use of premises where providing such good or services or use of premises would involve the person “endorsing, promoting or facilitating” a behaviour or belief that infringes that person’s strongly held religious convictions. It would also allow faith-based adoption and fostering agencies to turn away potential foster parents and adopters who are gay.

The proposed amendment is contained in the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill. The Bill proposes to amend the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006. Notably, the focus is solely on sexual orientation.  It does not propose to allow religious conscience to be invoked in other contexts, such as in relation to legislatio…

Can gay people enter into straight marriages?

It has now become de rigueur in conservative circles to suggest that gay and lesbian people who wish to marry are perfectly free to do so. Marriage, it is argued, is open to LGB people on the same basis as for everyone else, namely that anyone is free to marry a person of the opposite sex.  (I'll address trans* people in another post, I promise!)  A person who is gay, conservatives argue, is free to marry a person of the opposite sex and is therefore not barred from marriage.  Thus, they maintain, there is no unequal treatment. 

With respect, this is a deeply disingenuous argument.  It is hardly addressing the point to argue that a lesbian woman, in a long-term relationship with another woman, is perfectly free to leave her partner and marry some random man.  It is flippant, irresponsible, and deeply dismissive of the experience of being lesbian or gay.

The argument, moreover, does not stand up to legal scrutiny.

It is well established from case law that a heterosexual marriage …

Marriage is for straight people too!

An opinion piece in a prominent mainstream newspaper this weekend past claimed that the proposed wording of the marriage referendum in Ireland would inadvertently outlaw heterosexual marriage. With respect, I believe that this view is wrong. Several prominent constitutional lawyers have confirmed to me that the claim is inaccurate.

Both the Irish and English versions of the referendum wording are, in my view, open to the interpretation that two persons who are of different sex from each other may still marry each other if the amendment is passed. While the amendment anticipates that they may be of the same sex, they do not have to be. Arguably, the wording could have been more explicit on this point. Yet even if you accept that there is some potential ambiguity here, the risk that the amendment will inadvertently ban marriage for opposite-sex couples is non-existent.

Even if the amendment could be read as applying to same-sex couples only, it is exceptionally unlikely – without v…