William Crawley tells the story of the so-called 'Gay Cake' row and the resulting 'Conscience Clause' proposal to amend Northern Ireland's equality legislation.
It began last year when Ashers Baking Company in Belfast refused to make a cake bearing the legend 'Support Gay Marriage.' The firm defended their decision, stating the message on the cake was contrary to their Christian beliefs. The Northern Ireland Equality Commission responded by supporting an anti-discrimination case against the bakery. At the Stormont Assembly, a draft Private Member's Bill proposed a 'Conscience Clause' that would allow the refusal of goods and services on the grounds of strongly held religious beliefs. Opposition took to the streets of Belfast led mainly by gay activists and Sinn Féin.
In a place where religion and sectarianism has dominated the debate for so long, new battle lines had been drawn between conservative and liberal voices in a changing Northern Ireland society.
As the debate over the Conscience Clause intensifies and the case against Ashers goes to court, William Crawley asks how cases can be negotiated where there are competing sets of 'rights' at stake and if 'reasonable accommodation' can ever be achieved.