Freedom of Conscience and the Civil Partnership Bill

2nd December, 2009

I have received a lot of correspondence in relation to a ‘freedom of conscience’ clause for the Civil Partnership Bill due to be presented to the Dail on Thursday. What does this clause mean?

It allows that somebody discharging services (either as a state employee or a member of the private sector) would have the choice not to provide this service to a member of a civil partnership or someone looking to become a member of a civil partnership. So a civil registrar could decide not to provide civil partnership to a same sex couple because he or she disagrees with it on religious grounds.
Similarly somebody running a B&B could decide not to provide a bedroom to a same sex couple on religious grounds.

That’s what it is. Do I agree with the tabling or voting for such an amendment?

No. I don’t. And I don’t for many reasons.

  1. Firstly, the law is the law. We cannot chose what parts of the law we want to implement based on our own views or beliefs. We’ve seen to our cost as a country what happens when the universal application of law to all,regardless of their status and wealth, is either subverted or nor implemented. We could not allow this to be placed on a statutory footing for any reason.The idea that some people can refuse to implement the law is just plain wrong. Gay people pay their taxes just like the rest of us- they deserve nothing less than the same services everyone receives.
  2. Secondly, are we really saying that a registrar, paid for by our taxes,who is charged with implementing the law could decide whether to implement the law or not? The same registrar regularly registers (I assume) marriages of people who are divorced , and freedom of conscience has never been raised in relation to this.
  3. Thirdly, the use this clause would breach existing equality legislation. The Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 state that it is an offence to discriminate against a person on
    the grounds of gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religious belief, age,disability, race or as a member of the Traveller Community.

I know that those raising this clause do so in good faith. But, I cannot support the tabling of such an amendment let alone the voting for it.