TV presenter Stephen Fry has branded the DUP “bigots” over its attempts to introduce an equality legislation conscience clause in the wake of the Ashers ‘gay cake row’.
In a message to his 8.2 million Twitter followers yesterday, Mr Fry branded the Assembly bill “sick” and urged everyone to sign an online petition opposing the passing of legislation that would allow exemptions for people on religious grounds.
The DUP’s bill comes after the Equality Commission initiated legal proceedings against Newtownabbey-based Ashers Baking Company - the Christian-owned bakery which refused to supply a cake carrying the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
Responding to Mr Fry’s comments, DUP MLA Paul Givan reaffirmed the party’s commitment to the bill.
The Lagan Valley MLA said the latest high-profile opponent of his plans to amend the existing law was in keeping with the “hysterical responses” being whipped up by the gay community, in what amounted to “discrimination against people of faith”.
In his message, the presenter of QI, who is himself gay, said: “Once again the religious right twisting truth to present themselves as victims.”
Mr Givan said the vast majority of the outspoken critics were “missing what is in the bill”.
“This isn’t a bill to discriminates against someone’s sexual orientation, and I would oppose discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation,” he commented. “It is about someone of faith having to do something that would violate their faith. If we can have conscientious objection for people who don’t want to carry out abortions, and that is in the 1967 [abortion] Act in England, what is so intolerable about conscientious freedom when it comes to the provision of goods and services?
“The LGBT campaigners are adopting a tactic of hysterical responses to it in an effort to try to corner people into not giving this the type of rational consideration that it should merit. I think that is a tactic that they are deploying, they want to try and put people down and portray people like me and others as being intolerant when actually what I am trying to find is a balance of rights.
“I’m trying to create a society where everybody’s rights can be upheld and balanced. Ultimately this is discrimination against people of faith.”
The Ashers bakery case - often referred to as the ‘gay cake row’ - has caused a media storm and been the subject of debate around the world.
Responding to media coverage of Mr Givan’s criticism of his comments, Mr Fry tweeted: “To be “slammed” by the bigots of the DUP is to be bathed in light and kissed by angels. I am content.”
By last night almost 11,000 people had signed the petition against the bill.
Asked to comment on Mr Fry’s use of the term “bigots” to describe the DUP, Mr Givan said it was disappointing that “some people prefer to trade personal insults or use deliberately hysterical language.”
“This isn’t a bill to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of sexual orientation and I oppose any such discrimination. This is about protecting people’s deeply held faith from having to support something which would violate that faith,” he added.
“Those who rage so strongly against me conveniently ignore that Baroness Hale, the Deputy President of the Supreme Court, also said that such reasonable accommodation should be sought. However, it is much easier to attack me than to debate an issue raised by one of the most senior legal figures within the United Kingdom.
“There are competing rights and the consultation on my bill sets out to find a path where we can accommodate everyone’s rights. To force people of faith to abandon their beliefs isn’t equality but creates a hierarchy of rights where the rights of the gay community are being placed above the right to freedom of religion. I don’t believe that creating such a hierarchy is a mark of a liberal or tolerant society.
“It is important when dealing with a sensitive subject however that we are all mindful of the language used, on whatever side of the debate we happen to stand. It is a shame that instead of debating the issues at stake some people prefer to trade personal insults or use deliberately hysterical language.”