Tánaiste rules out ‘conscience clause’ for firms opposed to marriage equality

Tánaiste Joan Burton has ruled out a so-called "conscience clause" for business people who are opposed to marriage equality.

The Labour leader said companies should not be able to withhold goods or services on the grounds that they do not agree with extending civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Ms Burton rejected calls by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin for people to be able to “opt out” on religious grounds if they had “problems of conscience” if marriage equality is approved in the May 22 referendum.

“No, such an exemption will not be possible,” Ms Burton said. “If the people in their wisdom agree with the marriage equality referendum, well then it will be on the basis of marriage equality and I don’t actually see how you could operate something which would exclude some people or some institutions, from the operation of marriage equality.”

Ms Burton said same-sex weddings would boost traditional marriage and that should be encouraged by churches.

“The marriage equality referendum and the people who are gay and lesbian who want to get involved in marriage to their same- sex partners, it’s actually a very strong vote of confidence in the institution of marriage which, of course, all of the churches promote,” said Ms Burton.

However, the Social Protection Minister congratulated Dr Martin on the sensitive tone of his language in the marriage equality debate.

The fact that religious ministers will be able to opt out of performing same-sex marriages under the proposed legislation is a cause of regret, according to former Fianna Fáil minister Pat Carey.

“I have a lot of respect for Archbishop Martin,” he said. “He doesn’t throw things out without teasing them through but, in this case, I think he’s wrong.

“Legislating for conscience issues has not been good. We live in a mature, pluralist democracy in this country and I think the lawyers would be delighted if there was a conscience clause, they would be the only beneficiaries in all of this.

“Common sense can prevail, some people will exploit a provision like this. I don’t think it’s the wisest suggestion the Archbishop has come up with.”

Mr Carey came out earlier this year in order to encourage Fianna Fáil to be proactive in the yes campaign in the run-up to the May poll after he accused the party of not doing enough to try and secure victory for the reform.

Dr Martin has urged all sides of the debate to be sensitive and moderate in their language when discussing the issues involved in same-sex marriage.

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