Bishop Noel Treanor has insisted that laws forcing Christians to act against their conscience are a form of “prejudice and discrimination” that would not be tolerated against any other group in society.
Dr Treanor led a Church delegation on Tuesday to meet members of the DUP and SDLP at Stormont in relation to a proposed Freedom of Conscience Bill which would permit people to act according to their conscience without facing state sanction.
It comes after a Catholic adoption agency was forced to close down for holding the traditional belief that marriage is between a man and woman.
The owners of Ashers bakery in Belfast has also been reprimanded by the Equality Commission after it refused to bake a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.
Speaking after the meetings, Bishop Treanor said legislators need to “find a more just and reasonable accommodation for religious belief when conflicts between goods and services legislation and freedom of conscience arise”.
“It is important that our politicians accept there is a real problem here that needs to be addressed. Our laws as they stand are having an unjust and disproportionate impact on those of religious faith,” the bishop said.
He asked: “is it acceptable in a genuinely just, tolerant and pluralist society that one group are threatened with fines, imprisonment, losing their business or job, or in the case of the Catholic Church, losing public funding for long established adoption agencies and other charitable services that we provide, in the name of providing equality for another group? It is as if we have swapped one form of discrimination for another!”
He said “is it just to have a situation where one group of people are told ‘you are out’ of a particular business or ‘you need not apply’ for a particular job or that ‘you may not apply for public funds’, simply because they hold the perfectly rational belief that marriage is between a woman and a man and that sexual relationships are reserved in their dignity and purpose for this form of married relationship?
“The truth is that such prejudice and discrimination against any other category of people in our society would not be tolerated and public representatives have a responsibility to ensure that discrimination against those with perfectly rational religious views will not be tolerated either,” Dr Treanor said.