In the religiously divided society of Northern Ireland, an unprecedented coalition of conservative religious groups—ranging from Catholic to Protestant to Muslim—is taking shape on moral and social issues and targeting rising secularism, reports The Economist (Dec. 11).
The movement toward a “pan-religious ‘moral majority’” developed out of recent controversies over religious objections to gay rights, most notably the case of a Christian baker in Belfast who refused to bake a wedding cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage,” and was charged with discrimination. Paul Givan, a politician from the Protestant based Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), invoked Catholic and Protestant concerns when he proposed legislation that would allow businesses and other organizations to turn down jobs if matters of belief were at stake. He cited a recent decision by Catholic bishops to withdraw backing from an adoption agency rather treat same-sex couples on the same terms as heterosexual ones.
Givan reports that some Catholics say they plan to vote DUP because of its conservative stance on abortion and gay marriage. At a launch event for Givan’s proposal, a representative from the Belfast Islamic Centre was present, which was a change from the uneasy relations between Muslims and the DUP in recent years, according to the article. Secularists and gay rights activists are strongly opposed to Givan’s initiative, claiming it will lead back to the “bad old days of businesses picking and choosing their customers on sectarian and ethnic grounds.”
A Britain-wide poll suggests that there may be some public sympathy for the initiative, at least when it comes to business owners not being forced to violate their consciences. At the same time, the same poll showed that clear majorities support the view that businesses should generally treat all customers the same, including same-sex couples.