Catholic archbishop diarmuid Martin has called for a legal ‘conscience clause’ to allow lay people express religious objections without breaking equality laws.
The call comes ahead of the 22 May same-sex marriage referendum.
Such objections could potentially allow business owners refuse custom they believed was contrary to their religion.
For example, it emerged earlier this month that a printing company in Drogheda refused to design wedding invitations for a gay couple.
Archbishop Martin is quoted by today’s Sunday Times at a Iona Institute-organised event in Dublin last week.
Martin referenced how religious institutions have a choice whether or not to recognise a marriage and argued that other people should have that same right:
“What is that saying? It’s saying, yes, there is a conscientious question and we respect the conscience of a priest. But what about the lay Christian in the same difficulties – does he not have the freedom of conscience?”
The issue was in fact addressed by Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission in the case of a bakery’s refusal to make a cake promoting same-sex marriage. The commission told Ashers Bakery to compensate the individual whose cake they refuse to make.
This decision is currently being challenged in the courts.
Archbishop Martin’s call could be a way for businesses to avoid falling foul of similar equality rules in the Republic.
The suggestion has been criticised by Mark Kelly of the Yes Equality referendum campaign. He says it would effectively be a ‘licence to discriminate’.
“The human right to religious freedom is hugely important, but it does not include a licence to use religion to discriminate against others by denying them goods or services,” he argues.
“Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, but modern anti-discrimination laws make clear that they are not entitled to impose them on others.”