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Latest News from Gay Belfast in Northern Ireland

Translink employee under investigation for "bum buster" remarks (6 August 2015)

A Translink bus driver is to be investigated after making homophobic remarks over an open radio network during Belfast's LGBT Pride festival parade. The driver used the term "bum busters" while using his radio to talk to the bus firm's control centre. He said he was unable to drive along one of the city's main streets because of the crowds at Saturday's event. It was reported that when he was challenged, he stood by what he said by repeating the offensive comment. In a statement, bus operator Translink apologised to its passengers and staff for the driver's "offensive language". "We take incidents of this nature very seriously and we expect all our staff to deal with their passengers and colleagues in a friendly, helpful and professional manner at all times. A full investigation has been carried out and appropriate action is being taken." A whistleblower wrote to BBC Radio Ulster's The Stephen Nolan Show to highlight what had happened. John O'Doherty from the Rainbow Project, said the incident was an indication of the "everyday homophobia" that "still exists within our society" and which "in many ways is tolerated - it shouldn't be tolerated in the workplace especially in relation to public employers but the reality is in too many places and too many parts of our society it is still acceptable". He added that it was "hugely disappointing" that the comments had been made on the day of the Pride parade.

Thousands attend 25th annual Pride parade in Belfast City (1 August 2015)

Thousands of people have lined the streets of Belfast for the city's annual Gay Pride Parade. The parade left Custom House Square at noon with the usual mixture of colour, music and performances. The event is now in its 25th year and organisers claim that, in that time, the number of participants has grown from 100 to more than 40,000. Attention this year focused on the campaign to introduce marriage equality in Northern Ireland. Many wore t-shirts with the slogan "It's time", a reference to the continuing campaign for "full equality" in Northern Ireland. Speaking ahead of the parade, Lord Mayor of Belfast, Arder Carson, said he was looking forward to "another fantastic event for the city. It's going to be a spectacle of colour, it's going to be an expression of identity and an expression of diversity for Belfast". A number of small protests against the parade was staged outside Belfast City Hall and Corn Market.

Northern Ireland Gay Marriage Ban Faces Judicial Review (25 June 2015)

Two same-sex couples seeking to overturn a ban on gay marriage in Northern Ireland have welcomed a judicial decision to let their case proceed. The decision was made by Mr Justice Treacy who granted leave for a judicial review. Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane are taking the judicial review against the marriage ban. The pair are the first and second couples in the UK to enter into a civil partnership after Northern Ireland became the first part of the UK to make that option available to same-sex couples in December 2005. However, the Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected a proposal calling for the introduction of gay marriage on four occasions since, with unionists opposed and vetoing it.

The two couples solicitor, Mark O'Connor, spoke on their behalf afterwards. He said: "On behalf of our clients we are delighted we have been able to get over the first hurdle in relation to the judicial process in that the judge today has granted leave for us to bring this judicial review. We are thankful that the judge has made that decision today. We believe that religious policy and religious views should not be affecting public policy before the courts today and thankfully the judge today appears to have accepted there is an arguable case to answer for the (Stormont) departments and hopefully we will have success in the future in relation to this matter." Earlier this month, about 20,000 campaigners marched in Belfast city centre demanding a change in the law.

Northern Ireland needs to “catch up” on Same-Sex Marriage (18 June 2015)

Acclaimed actor Sir Ian McKellen has called for Northern Ireland to “catch up” on same-sex marriage. Despite same-sex weddings becoming legal in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales it remains banned in Northern Ireland, where the devolved government has blocked equality legislation. Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly isolated on the issue, following the Republic of Ireland’s landslide vote in favour of same-sex marriage last month. Sir Ian, who co-founded rights group Stonewall, told BBC Breakfast “Whenever the vote came through, that wasn’t the big turning point. The turning point had been already happening and this was confirmation that Ireland had changed, and that leads onto the future very well indeed. I hope, as a result, Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, will catch up with the rest of us now and bring in same-gender marriage because it’s rather unseemly that that little corner of our country, doesn’t have quite as liberal laws as the rest.” The Oscar-nominated actor is currently starring in the film Mr Holmes and ITV's Vicious. Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International said he hoped Northern Ireland's law-makers were "listening". The actor's support for gay marriage was "a reminder of how much we are now out of step with the rest of the UK and Ireland on civil marriage for same-sex couples. We hope our legislators are listening, not just to Sir Ian McKellen, but the 20,000 people who marched in Belfast in Saturday and the majority of people throughout Northern Ireland who want our law brought into line with the rest of the UK and Ireland." Same-sex marriage is now legal in some 20 countries across the world.

Belfast Resident Asked to Remove Gay Flag (17 June 2015)

Fold Housing Association has asked a Belfast resident to remove rainbow flags which she has flying from her apartment in support of gay marriage. Antoinette Clarke arrived home to a notice through her door from the Belfast based Housing Association asking her to take down the rainbow flags. A Fold Housing Association spokeswoman said “Fold Housing Association is aware of a complaint made yesterday evening and is working to resolve the situation alongside the tenants. It is our policy not to discuss the details of individual tenancies.”

Over 20,000 March in Belfast for Marriage Equality (13 June 2015)

More than 20,000 people marched through the streets of Belfast today in support of marriage equality. The march began at Writer’s Square and moved through the streets to finish outside Belfast City Hall. The march was endorsed by many political parties and a number of celebrities such as actress Bronagh Gallagher and Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol who also attended the rally. Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director, was among those who addressed the rally. He said it was "simply unacceptable for the state to discriminate against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Amnesty International believes that states should end discrimination on this basis and instead ensure that all families are equally protected before the law. That's why we are on the march today and why we will walk every step of the way with you and the LGBTI community, and why we will not stop until every one of us can enjoy the same rights and recognition before the law." Renowned Northern Ireland novelist Glenn Patterson also spoke at the rally and alluding to the symbolism of the DeLorean car currently situated in the grounds of City Hall, asked the crowd to permit him a 'Back to the Future' moment. "We will never forsake the blue skies of Ulster for the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet skies of the Irish Republic, we are going to bring them here."

Belfast City Council backs Gay marriage (02 June 2015)

Belfast City Council has voted in favour of same-sex marriage at a meeting last night (Monday 1st June 2015). A total of 38 councillors voted for, 13 voted against and there were two abstentions, so the motion was carried. It had been moved by Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown. Cllr McDonough-Brown described NI as a “backwater, an embarrassment” in its stance on gay marriage, but added that ministers should not be forced into enacting it. Councillors from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Green Party, PUP, People Before Profit and Alliance spoke in support of the motion. All the Sinn Fein and Alliance councillors voted in favour, all but two of the SDLP councillors joined them, as well as the PUP, Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit Alliance, and the Green Party. All but three Ulster Unionists also voted for the motion. Three UU members voted against and they were joined by all of the DUP councillors. Two SDLP councillors abstained from the vote. Earlier this month, the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage. However, in April, the Northern Ireland Assembly rejected a proposal calling for the introduction of gay marriage, after debating the issue for a fourth time. A total of 96 MLAs took part in that vote and 49 voted against the Sinn Féin motion calling for civil marriage equality for all, with 47 in favour. Sinn Féin, SDLP and five Alliance MLAs supported the motion. The DUP opposed it and the Ulster Unionists were given a free vote on the issue. Openly gay councillor Jeff Dudgeon also spoke up during the debate. Cllr Dudgeon said: “Decriminalisaton in the 1980s was achieved without support from any political party. This bill would still hve to go through Stormont where it’ll be defeated, and I’m nervous of those being demonised for their stance."

TESCO Supermarket Still Supplying Ashers Products (30th May 2015)

Supermarket giant Tesco continues to “review” its relationship with Ashers Bakery. "Tesco has a great track record of working with local suppliers, large and small, from across Northern Ireland. Our focus and our commitment is to serve customers in all communities, from all backgrounds and beliefs." Meanwhile, another leading grocery chain has rallied to support Ashers. the Henderson Group, which runs dozens of convenience outlets, confirmed that the controversial Christian-owned bakery also supplied traybakes and biscuits to some of its Spar and Vivo shops. It added in a statement: “As long as a supplier continues to provide quality, both of product and service, value and choice, they will continue to be a supplier.” Ed: The Gay Belfast team wonder if there was a racist or anti-semitic company that had been found to discriminate would TESCO still be reviewing this and be supported by the Henderson Group. We doubt it, the order would have been cancelled. Join the Petition and contact TESCO.

ProGay Marriage Rally's Planned (29 May 2015)

Northern Ireland is now the only region in Western Europe where marriage equality is not a reality. The Rainbow Project has called this a "shameful injustice which cannot be allowed to continue". John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project said "To highlight this injustice, The Rainbow Project and our partners in Amnesty International and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have announced a march and rally for marriage equality to be held in Belfast on Saturday 13th June, assembling at Writers’ Square for 2.30pm." Another protest at City Hall being organised tomorrow (Saturday 30th May 2015) and will be held Belfast City hall. The event has been organised by the political party 'People Before Profit' and has over 4,000 confirmed attendees on their Facebook event page. People Before Profit councillor, Gerry Carroll said “This could be the start of a big movement. Well done everyone! Let’s make it a big one! And now the great people at the Rainbow Project and others have called for a big rally in June too! Fantastic! Let’s get everyone down next Saturday as a start for a really big movement that will shake the Assembly to its core. And then get everyone down in June!”

Ashers Bakery to Appeal Discrimination Decision (28 May 2015)

The bakery that recently lost a discrimination case over the so-called 'gay cake row' has decided to appeal. A Belfast court found that Ashers bakery customer Gareth Lee had been discriminated against on the grounds of his sexual orientation. Mr Lee was backed in the case by the NI Equality Commission. In a statement, Ashers Bakery said: "After much careful and prayerful consideration given to legal advice, we have decided to appeal the judgement handed down last Tuesday. We continue to insist that we have done nothing wrong as we have discriminated against no individual, but rather acted according to what the Bible teaches regarding marriage. Last week a judge said that, as a business, Ashers was not exempt from discrimination law.

Ireland becomes First Country to Legalise Gay Marriage by Popular Vote. (23 May 2015)

The results are in from yesterday's referendum. Ireland has voted by a huge majority to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to do so by popular vote in a move hailed as a social revolution and welcomed around the world. Some 62% of the Irish Republic’s electorate voted in favour of gay marriage. The result means that a republic once dominated by the Catholic church ignored the instructions of its cardinals and bishops. The huge Yes vote marks another milestone in Ireland’s journey towards a more liberal, secular society.

Out of an electorate of more than 3 million, 1,201,607 backed gay marriage, while 734,300 voters said No. The result prompted a massive street party around the gay district of central Dublin close to the national count centre. Irish deputy prime minister and Labour leader Joan Burton added: “The people of Ireland have struck a massive blow against discrimination.” Quoting the late American politician and LGBT rights activist Harvey Milk, she said: “Hope will never be silent.”

Gavin Boyd from the Rainbow Project (Belfast based gay rights group), reminded the world that there was still a ban on gay marriage north of the border. “To the people of Ireland, we offer our thanks. You have done what no other country in the world has done. You have chosen, as a nation, to extend marriage rights to your LGBT family, friends and neighbours and this will go down in history as another example of the decency and fairness of the Irish people. “However, for us, this sweet victory is tinged with sadness. Northern Ireland is now the only region in western Europe where marriage equality is not a reality. This is a shameful injustice which cannot be allowed to continue,” Boyd said. ‘To highlight this injustice, The Rainbow Project and our partners in Amnesty International and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have announced a march and rally for marriage equality to be held in Belfast on Saturday 13th June, assembling at Writers’ Square for 2.30pm.

Gay Marriage Referendum - Polls Opens (22nd May 2015)

Voters in the Republic of Ireland are taking part in a referendum on legalising same-sex marriage today. More than 3.2m people are being asked whether they want to amend the country's constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Polling stations opened at 7am with voting continuing until 10pm and counting due to start on Saturday morning. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 19 countries worldwide. The referendum is being held 22 years after Ireland decriminalised homosexuality. In 2010, the government enacted civil partnership legislation, which provided legal recognition for gay couples. But there are some important differences between civil partnership and marriage, the critical one being that marriage is protected in the constitution while civil partnership is not. Ed: Fingers crossed for a positive vote.

Ashers Bakery Found Guilty of Discrimination in ‘Gay Cake’ Row (19 May 2015)

The bakery which refused to provide a pro-gay marriage cake has been found guilty of discrimination at the Belfast County Court today. Damages of £500 were agreed in advance by legal teams on both sides of the dispute. A lawyer for Mr Lee said the money would be donated to charity. Daniel McArthur, manager of Ashers Bakery, said they were "extremely disappointed with the judgment" and are considering an appeal.

Christian Concern, which backs Christians facing court cases over their beliefs, says the judgement undermines religious freedom in Northern Ireland, while the Evangelical Alliance claims that this is a significant change in the law that will have wider implications and may even suggest that religion has been "effectively banished from the commercial sphere".

Meanwhile, ITV's Loose Women presenter Coleen Nolan compared a cake supporting same-sex marriage to one supporting terrorist group ISIS.The presenter made the comments while hosting the tv programme today, and was joined by Janet Street-Porter. Janet Street-Porter went on to suggest that Mr Lee had purely set out to “test” equalities legislation. She said it is “a very difficult case I think. There’s no doubt that they were sought out to test the law. It was someone who wanted to test the equality and anti-discrimination laws. You can see where both sides are coming from.” Street-Porter also incorrectly said “gay marriage is legal in Northern Ireland” – despite the DUP government continuing to block it. She continued: “The bakery in my opinion was always going to lose. But I feel rather sympathetic towards them. I would not like to see their business close down, nor do I think they’re bigots. I think they have beliefs that we may or may not agree with…. I’ve had so many rows with my gay friends about this.” She later said: “They have got equal rights in law but they can choose where they go to get their cakes.”

Link: Ashers 'Gay Cake' row - Questions and Answers

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."