Stephen Farry said: “While it is important to acknowledge the views and belief systems of everyone in society and to recognise freedom of religion, this comprehensive judgement is welcome in that it clarifies the existing law and legal protections against discrimination.
“Alliance’s preference would have been that this case had never ended up in court, and that the issues involved should have been resolved through mediation.
“This judgement reaffirms what should have already been understood that equality legislation is itself already balanced. There can be exemptions in which discrimination can be defended on the basis of ‘genuine occupational requirements’ or ‘genuine service requirements’. However, the judge was quite clear that given the nature of the business being offered by Ashers that this exemption could not credibly be claimed.
“It is clear the every person should be treated equally irrespective of their background in terms of the provision of goods, facilities and services, and where businesses are at risk of being asked to process certain political messages that the owners may be uncomfortable with, they have the option of not doing any such messaging.
“It is important that everyone in the political sphere takes time to reflect on this judgment. Any renewed calls for general ‘conscience clauses’ to be introduced should be avoided. Conscience clauses, whereby someone can refuse to employ someone or provide a service due to potential conflict with their stated beliefs, can only be considered in very specific and defined circumstances where an exceptional case can be made. Any general conscience clause would seriously undermine equality protections and facilitate unjustified discrimination in a wide range of scenarios, with serious implications for many people, including some of the most vulnerable or marginalised in society.”