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Latest News from Gay Belfast in Northern Ireland

Gay Marriage Proposal Rejected by Stormont (27 April 2015)

A proposal to have gay marriage legalised in Northern Ireland has been rejected. It is the fourth time the divisive issue has been defeated at the Stormont Assembly and comes hours after under-pressure DUP Health Minister Jim Wells resigned amid controversy over remarks about same-sex relationships. A blocking mechanism was used by the Mr Wells' colleagues to ensure the motion's defeat. DUP Assembly member Peter Weir said his party opposed same-sex marriages. He added: "This is not a serious debate. Clearly this motion is an attack on the symbolism of marriage and the institution of marriage and an attempt to redefine marriage. My party believes, and I believe also, that marriage is between one man and one woman and once you redefine that you lose the essence of marriage itself." Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty's programme director, said: "Marriage should be available to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland, just as it is in Scotland, England and Wales and may soon be in the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland is being left behind as a discriminatory backwater for gay and lesbian people. If politicians again abdicate their responsibilities, once more it will be left to the courts to uphold the right of all citizens not to face discrimination."

Wells finally resigns as Northern Ireland Health Minister (27 April 2015)

Jim Wells, the Northern Ireland health minister at the centre of controversy over remarks about gay couples has resigned. The resignation follows his remarks at a hustings where he linked same-sex relationships to child abuse. He later apologised for those comments. Mr Wells is a Westminster candidate for the DUP in the South Down constituency. Police are also investigating an incident involving a lesbian couple during an election canvas by Mr Wells in County Down. It is believed the Police Service of Northern Ireland is trying to establish if an offence has been committed for both offences. His resignation was reported by this mornings Belfast Telegraph.

Health Minister says gay couples more likely to abuse children - Police Investigate (24 April 2015)

jim wells from dupThere have been calls for the resignation of DUP Health Minister Jim Wells following him linking gay couples and child abuse, he later issued an apology. His party leader, Peter Robinson stands by him, calling his apology “sincere” and “fulsome”. On Thursday evening Mr Wells told a hustings event organised by the Down Recorder that “the facts show that certainly you don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship as a child is far more likely to be abused and neglected”. The PSNI is now investigating following an official complaint. Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Mr Wells’ position was “no longer tenable”. The SDLP has tabled a motion of no confidence and censure in the Minister and there was criticism from several other quarters even though he quickly apologised for his remarks. Alliance leader David Ford said the comments exposed a “deep vein of homophobia and disrespect for the LGBT community which runs throughout the DUP”. The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: “I think these comments have lifted the lid on some really unpleasant views, the mask has slipped.” It has been reported that senior DUP sources were dismayed by this controversy, acknowledging that a key element of the party’s election strategy was to reach out to more liberal unionists to try, in particular, to regain the East Belfast seat Naomi Long of Alliance took from the DUP leader, Peter Robinson in 2010.

Gay Cake Case: Judgement is Reserved (30 March 2015)

Judgement has been reserved at the end of the 'gay cake' case in Northern Ireland. The barrister for Mr Lee told the County Court in Belfast that businesses needed to make clear in advance what they would and would not do. He said Ashers had nothing in their terms and conditions to prevent them baking the cake which Mr Lee ordered. A barrister for Christian-run County Antrim firm Ashers said if they lost the discrimination case there would be wide-reaching consequences for shop owners. He said it would mean a Muslim printer could not refuse to print a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. No indication has been given when the judgement will be issued.

Ashers Bakery in Court over ‘Gay cake’ (27 March 2015)

Gareth Lee outside court in BelfastThe owner of Ashers Bakery the Belfast bakery who refused to make a cake promoting gay marriage has told a court that fulfilling the order would have betrayed his conscience. Colin McArthur, who co-owns Ashers bakery, told the high court in Belfast he had discussed with his wife, Karen, “how we could stand before God and bake a cake like this, promoting a cause like this”. The case was brought by Gareth Lee, who had ordered the cake to mark the election of Andrew Muir as the first openly LGBT mayor in Northern Ireland last year.

In Court before Judge Isobel Brownlie, Mr Lee said he believed as a gay man the refusal to sell him the cake was because of his sexual orientation. The refusal made him feel a “lesser person”, he told the court. The Ashers lawyer, David Scoffield QC, contending it was “plainly not a sexual orientation case”, but a “freedom of conscience case.... If a heterosexual couple had placed the same order they would have got the same response,” he added.

Karen McArthur, a Director of Ashers, said she took the initial order and money from Mr Lee in May last year because she did want to have a scene in the shop. “I did not want to embarrass him or have a confrontation in the bakery,” she said. She realised from the outset, however, that she could not fulfil the order. “I knew in my heart that I could not put that message on the cake,” she told the court. However, after consulting with her family she phoned Mr Lee 48 hours later to say she could not carry out the order. Mr Lee was reimbursed. “The problem was with the message on the cake because, as a Christian, I do not support gay marriage,” said Ms McArthur.

Christian Rally Held to Support Ashers Bakery (24 March 2015)

waterfront rally for ashersThe 2,500-seater Waterfront Hall was full this evening (Tuesday 24 March 2015) for a rally to support Ashers Bakery ahead of a legal case that is being supported by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission. Members of the McArthur family which owns the bakery, and representatives of the Christian Institute and DUP were in attendance at the packed rally ahead of the hearing.

Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said: "This is simply about whether someone should be forced to promote a message with which they profoundly disagree and everyone ought to have that freedom not to be forced to promote a message that they don't agree with." Speakers during the event included B&B owner Hazelmary Bull who refused to let a gay couple sleep together at her business. A judge found Mrs Bull and her husband had directly discriminated against the couple - who were awarded a total of £3,600 damages.

The Christian owned bakery will be in court later this week.

Republic to Hold Referendum on Gay Marriage (22 February 2015)

Voters in the South of Ireland are expected to decide in May (22nd) whether to accept gay marriage in what campaigners have called a monumental referendum. Civil rights groups supporting the proposed reform to the Republic’s constitution said the announcement of the date for polling marks a countdown to equality for all citizens of the country. Taoiseach Enda Kenny revealed the preferred date for the vote with opinion polls suggesting a majority were in favour of the reform. Grainne Healy, chairperson of the Marriage Equality group, said all loving couples should be free to unite using the same commitment. “Marriage is important to Irish society, it’s a secure foundation for committed and loving couples. Everyone should be free to marry on those terms,” she said. “A yes in this referendum is a yes to lesbian and gay people being full participants in Irish society, and fully equal in the eyes of their fellow citizens. Every single vote counts in this referendum, not one person can be complacent.”

Homosexuality was a criminal offence in the Republic until 1993 and in 2011 gay people were given the right to commit to civil partnerships and register partnerships signed outside the country. Leo Varadkar, Health Minister, announced last month that he is gay, becoming the first openly gay Irish cabinet minister in the history of the state. He said he went public to avoid accusations that his private life may colour his judgment when campaigning on issues such as gay marriage or a separate reform to lift the ban on gay men donating blood. The marriage referendum is by no means a foregone conclusion with some religious groups against the idea and a suggestion that the 80% figure of support in opinion polls could be easily diminished. Kieran Rose, chair of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, said the constitutional reform of marriage was about granting full citizenship to lesbian and gay people.

Homophobic Atacks Forces Grieving Man from Belfast Home (20 February 2015)

A grieving man who has been the target of a series of homophobic attacks and death threats has said he can no longer live in his north Belfast home. Paul Finlay-Dickson, whose civil partner Maurice died of cancer last month, said the attacks began 18 months ago and continued through his illness. In one attack, faeces was pushed through the letter box of their home. Paul said gangs of youths regularly make threats, bang on his windows and doors and throw eggs at his house. He said a rainbow flag, representing the gay rights movement that Maurice had requested to be draped on his coffin, was also ripped down from outside their home and covered in faeces. The couple celebrated their civil partnership last November, seven weeks before Maurice died, at the age of 41. Paul told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme that the attacks were still taking place at a time when he was "grieving and coming to terms with losing my husband". Gavin Boyd from the Rainbow Project told the programme that his organisation works very closely with the police and housing authorities on cases where members of the gay community are being victimised and intimidated in their own homes. Police have said they are investigating complaints ranging from threats to kill to harassment and criminal damage. Click here to contact the PSNI.

Ashers Court Date Confirmed (11 February 2015)

The legal test case against Ashers Baking Company, a Christian-owned bakery which refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage message will be heard in court on 26 and 27 March 2015, it has been confirmed. The Newtownabbey firm is defending the case which has been taken against it by the Equality Commission. The publicly-funded organisation wrote to the company last July to threaten legal action after it refused to make a cake with the words ‘Support gay marriage’. The Equality Commission confirmed in November 2014 that it would press ahead with the case.

Thirty Percent of Irish employees face discrimination at work (10 February 2015)

Research by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) found that some 30% of gay, lesbian and bisexual employees in Ireland are harassed at work. One in ten Irish LGBT people have quit their job because of discrimination at work, GLEN found. The research also found that employees who were out at work were more committed to their employer than employees who were not out. Out employees reported a better working relationship with colleagues. Research by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) found that some 30% of gay, lesbian and bisexual employees in Ireland are harassed at work. One in ten Irish LGBT people have quit their job because of discrimination at work, GLEN found. The research also found that employees who were out at work were more committed to their employer than employees who were not out. Out employees reported a better working relationship with colleagues. “The Workplace Equality Index will push top performing employers in Ireland to new heights. The Index will also provide a framework for employers tackling issues like harassment and homophobic bullying in the workplace” said Davin Roche, Director of Workplace Diversity, GLEN. Companies employing over half a million employees across the private, public, educational, community and voluntary sectors attended today’s launch. Entry to the Index is free and open to all employers in Ireland. The best places to work for LGBT people will be announced on September 22.

Belfast City Hall protest held against anti gay 'conscience clause' bill (31 January 2015)

belfast city hall rally held for anti gay 'conscience clause' billOver 1,000 people gathered at Belfast's City Hall to protest over the DUP's conscience clause bill. The crowd was addressed by politicians from Alliance, Sinn Féin and SDLP, as well as community leaders. The DUP MLA Paul Givan's private member's bill aims to create a legal exemption on grounds of strongly held religious beliefs. He sought to introduce a "conscience clause" into equality law in NI, following legal action taken against a Christian-owned bakery. The Equality Commission has brought a civil case against Ashers Baking Company after it refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. The row first emerged in July, when Ashers revealed it was facing possible legal action over its decision to decline a customer's request. The cake had been ordered in Belfast by a gay activist for a civic event in Bangor, County Down, marking International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Ashers Baking Company said it had declined the request because it was "at odds" with its Christian beliefs. Mr Givan argued that the law had to be rebalanced. He said it was a choice between a society "that can make space for difference or one that is intolerant". Mr Givan said the Equality Commission's legal action had "created a hierarchy of rights where all minorities are not to be treated equally".

£40,000 Legal Bill for Gay Blood Ban (23 January 2015)

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew has blasted as disgraceful the legal costs associated with defending the ban on gay people giving blood by former Health Minister Edwin Poots. A ban on gay men donating blood was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011. A judge has already ruled the ban was "infected by apparent bias" and backed claims from lawyers that Mr Poots' stance was influenced by his Christian beliefs. The High Court ruling strengthened a previous finding in October 2013 that the ban was irrational.

Mr Agnew slammed the expenditure as "disgraceful" and urged current Health Minister Jim Wells to abandon the action. "It is a similar amount of money to what was paid out in the legal challenge to gay couples adopting," he said. "Combined, these sums are significant. Collectively, they show further evidence that, as Justice Treacy put it, this is beyond religious belief and into the realms of prejudice.

"This is clearly a personal agenda driven forward by a previous Health Minister. Given that the appeal is ongoing, it looks like it is set to continue with the current Health Minister. I think it is a disgrace that that a minister has used public money to follow what had been judged by the courts as a personal agenda."

DUP conscience clause bill is 'SICK' says Stephen Fry (20 December 2014)

stephen fryThe Democratic Unionist Party wants to introduce a new clause in Northern Ireland's equality laws that would allow businesses to refuse services to a customer if it is against their religious beliefs. Critics have reacted angrily to the Freedom of Conscience Bill , claiming it is legalising discrimination, and a petition has been set up to stop the Freedom of Conscience Bill being passed. And now it has received support from an influential backer - the gay presenter, comedian and writer Stephen Fry. He tweeted: “Once again the religious right twisting truth to present themselves as victims. To be slammed by the bigots of the DUP is to be bathed in light and kissed by angels." Fry also urged his eight million followers to sign a petition opposing the legislation put forward by the DUP which would allow businesses to refuse to serve customers based on religious grounds. The Freedom of Conscience Bill was prompted by the threat of legal action against Ashers Bakery, a Belfast based Christian bakery business, which became know as the "gay cake" row.

Belfast School Apologises over anti-gay Worksheet (01 December 2014)

A Belfast school has apologised after complaints were made that it handed out a worksheet which branded gay people “homosexual perverts”. The worksheet was handed out in a in a Religious Studies class at Hunterhouse College in Belfast, but has now been withdrawn. It asked questions in relation to 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 and was sent home with pupils, at least one parent of which complained. According to the school, the worksheet was part of a wider discussion, and that it purposely included extreme opinions, and those on both sides of the debate. The questions read "What do these verses tell us about homosexuals? Who else is included with homosexuals? What hope is there for all these people?"

One father told the BBC to say he had complained that the questions did not “allow room for discussion and almost branded all homosexuals as perverts.” Hunterhouse headmaster Andrew Gibson told the BBC: “This is in the introduction to Christian ethics centred around personal and family issues. As part of this, pupils are encouraged to consider a variety of attitudes to homosexuality, the questions were set in house but they were in the context of the CCEA specifications. We have a very strong pastoral care system at the school and deal with issues around sexuality with great sensitivity.” He went on to admit the school “got it wrong” by allowing the worksheet to be sent home, saying it was taken out of the context of the class. Hunterhouse College has withdrawn the worksheet, and claims to have an ethos of inclusivity. The Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland was consulted for advice on how the school can be more inclusive going forward.

Ashers Bakery Says NO Apology Needed in Bert and Ernie Gay Cake Row (07 November 2014)

belfast cake rowBelfast based gay and lesbian support group has said it is disappointed that a row over a 'gay cake' had not been resolved through agreement. The Northern Ireland Equality Commission said it was taking legal action over a Christian-run bakery's refusal to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. Ashers Baking Company said it had declined the request because it was "at odds" with its beliefs. The Rainbow Project said a solution could have been found to the dispute. However, John O'Doherty, Director of the Rainbow Project, said: "The Equality Commission asked for an apology, they asked for recognition that it wouldn't happen again. There's going to be a court case around this, and this is going to get a lot more public attention and the discussions that are going to be held are going to be 'us versus them' and we have already seen that quite a lot. The reality is that we need to address the very serious issues that exist within our society around discrimination."

The Equality Commission supported the customer's claim for compensation, but lawyers for the County Antrim firm do not accept the bakery owners acted unlawfully. In a statement the commission said it is to begin civil proceedings. The row hit the headlines in July 2014, when the baking company revealed it was facing possible legal action over its decision to decline the customer's request. The cake had been ordered in Belfast by a gay activist two months earlier, for a civic event in Bangor, County Down, marking International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. At the time, the firm's 24-year-old general manager, Daniel McArthur, said marriage in Northern Ireland "still is defined as being a union between one man and one woman" and said his company was taking "a stand". In a video posted on social media Mr McArthur, said: "We feel that the Equality Commission are pursuing us because of our belief that marriage is between a man and a woman." The commission said it would have preferred not to start legal action. Northern Ireland's first minister, Peter Robinson criticised the Equality Commission's decision calling it bonkers. See our other article on this subject below - dated 8 July 2014.

Julie-Anne Corr with partner Kerry JohnstonBelfast's Councillor Corr to 'Tie the Knot' (15 October 2014)

Just five months after being elected to Belfast city council, Julie-Anne Corr the openly gay member of the Progressive Unionist Party is set to tie the knot next month with her partner Kerry Johnston in a civil ceremony inside Crumlin Road Gaol. "It's the biggest day of our lives and Kerry and I decided to make it quirky and lots of fun. I'll be arriving in a black taxi and and the jail was right up my street." said Councillor Corr who represents the Oldpark area on the council. The couple plan a honeymoon in Poland where they first decided to commit to one another two years ago. Councillor Corr has been outspoken on many issues ranging from flags to same-sex marriage which has been rejected three times by the Assembly. Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK without full marriage equality.

Belfast's Top Gay Venue Kremlin is Sold (1 October 2014)

The sale of the Kremlin Licensed Complex, which includes The Kremlin Club, Union Street Bar and The Shoe Factory Club represents one of the largest pub sales in recent years and generated significant interest from investors. The purchase price was undisclosed, but is understood to be close to the £3m asking price. The complex started with the Kremlin Club in 1999 and has become one of the city's well-known licensed premises. Tim Reid, Director of Capital Markets at selling agent CBRE said: "As the economic recovery continues to gather pace, so too have we witnessed strong renewed interest in the Northern Ireland hotel and licensed sector. "The sale of the Kremlin demonstrates that there is appetite for larger pub lot sizes, where the premises have been well fitted and are underpinned by strong trading fundamentals." Formed in 2009 to lease and run the Kremlin Complex, Anthology NI will now take full ownership of the venues including the Liquor License, branding, copyrights, goodwill, fixtures and fittings. Anthea Wilson, Director of purchaser Anthology NI, added: "We are absolutely delighted to now own the freehold of the Kremlin having been the tenant for the past five years. "For us its business as usual, but with a few exciting new additions planned for the complex over the next 12 months as we expand on demand and increase our diversity."

Blair - Top 'Gay Icon' (28 September 2014)

Tony Blair, former Prime Minister has been recognised as one of the top "gay icons" of the past three decades, along with figures such as Boy George, Sir Ian McKellen and Barbra Streisand. He has been given the accolade by Gay Times to mark its 30th anniversary. Blair's period as Prime Minister saw the lowering of the homosexual age of consent, bringing it into line with that for straight couples, as well as the introduction of civil partnerships. It comes after he was given an award by GQ magazine earlier this month which declared him the philanthropist of the year. Gay Times said of Mr Blair's contribution: "Whatever the realities of his philanthropy and the backlash to his GQ award, his status as an ambassador of gay rights is undeniable. "An equal age of consent, the abolition of Section 28, legal recognition for trans people, civil partnerships, banning employers from sacking you because of who you love and making homophobia a hate crime - they were all on Blair's watch."

Panti Bliss delivery review of Northern Ireland homophobia (01 August 2014)

Panti Bliss in Belfast for Pride 2014Irish campaigning drag queen Panti Bliss delivered her Amnesty International Pride lecture last tonight at the The MAC, in which she claimed that Northern Ireland still has a problem with homophobia: ‘It’s a great place and a place transformed for the gay community over recent years,’ she will say, ‘but there is still a long way to go.’

Panti Bliss is the drag persona of Rory O’Neill, condemned the role of religion in fuelling homophobia. “Homophobia is a problem in all of the UK. But polls suggest that Northern Ireland has a particular problem.

Twenty-six per cent of Northern Irish people in a recent vote said they’d have a problem living beside a gay neighbour and that’s a pretty stark statistic. I think the simple answer is that Northern Ireland is a more religious society and many people use religion as an outlet to express homophobic views.”

Bakery refuses to make ‘gay marriage’ cake (08 July 2014)

Daniel McArthur Ashers General ManagerA bakery that refused to make a cake featuring the slogan “support gay marriage” alongside a picture of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie could end up in court, it has been reported. Ashers Baking Company, a Newtownabbey-based bakery is understood to have been sent a letter from the Equality Commission threatening legal action if it refuses to print the icing on the cake. Ashers Baking Company published a statement on its website defending its decision to refuse to bake the cake as the slogan above the puppets was in support of gay marriage. We are run by Christians who refused the order because it went against the directors’ religious beliefs.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where gay marriage is still not legal. That ban is expected to face a challenge later this year, firstly in the high court in Belfast, with the possibility of the action going all the way to the European court of human rights. Northern Ireland's first openly gay mayor, Andrew Muir, has backed legal action against the bakery, saying businesses should not be able to pick and choose who they serve.

In its statement, the firm's general manager, Daniel McArthur (pictured) said: "The directors and myself looked at it and considered it and thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs. It certainly was at odds with what the Bible teaches, and on the following Monday we rang the customer to let him know that we couldn't take his order." McArthur said the company had offered to fully refund the customer, who wanted to have the logo of the pressure group QueerSpace on the cake. The 24-year-old businessman, whose company was established in 1992, runs six shops in the region and employs 62 people, confirmed he had received a letter from the Equality commission for Northern Ireland. He said: "We thought that was the end of it, but approximately six weeks later we received a letter from the Equality commission. The commission's letter said that we had discriminated against the customer on the grounds of his sexual orientation." McArthur said he was very surprised by the watchdog's letter and had asked the Christian Institute, an evangelical pressure group, for advice. The institute supports the bakery's stance and is providing legal assistance. "I feel if we don't take a stand on this here case, how can we stand up against it, further down the line?" He added that it was not the first time his company had refused cake orders: "In the past, we've declined several orders which have contained pornographic images and offensive, foul language."

Andrew Muir, the outgoing mayor of North Down and a gay member of the liberal Alliance party, said the Bert and Ernie cake was for an event he was hosting in the constituency in May. He said it was ordered to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia on 17 May. "Businesses should not be able to pick and choose who they serve," he said, adding that he would be supportive of legal action against the bakery. For Northern Ireland to prosper and overcome our divisions we need a new society where businesses are willing to cater for all, regardless of religious views, political opinion, disability, race, age, sexual orientation, marital status, gender and other backgrounds. I was pleased that another bakery, in Bangor, was able to step in and produce this cake for the event I hosted as mayor of North Down. We were able to ensure that this event went ahead, despite the actions of Ashers Bakery, and enjoyed a great afternoon celebrating the vibrant diversity Northern Ireland enjoys."