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N. Ireland
judge weakens gay protections

N. Ireland
judge weakens gay protections

Northern Ireland's highest court this week dismissed the Sexual Orientation Regulations' significant harassment provisions protecting gay men and lesbians from "vocal opposition" from providers of goods and services.

The regulations outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods, services, and education and were controversially introduced in January. Similar regulations were enacted in Great Britain in April; they are not affected by this week's ruling.

This week, Northern Ireland judge Justice Weatherup ruled that businesses that breach regulations can be fined up to $30,000 but also said prosecution cannot be made for "voicing opposition" to gay men and lesbians.

The dismissal of harassment protections will also apply to schools in Northern Ireland, many of which are run by churches.

The judgment follows a weeklong hearing in June at which the U.K.'s Christian Institute and a coalition of other churches applied for a judicial review, calling the regulations a "blatant infringement" of religious liberty.

They had sought to have the regulations dismissed entirely.

As part of his judgment, Weatherup wrote, "The applicants contend that the regulations treat evangelical Christians less favorably than other persons to the extent that they are subject to civil liability for manifesting the orthodox belief in relation to homosexuality.

"I am satisfied that the regulations do not treat evangelical Christians less favorably than others," Weatherup ruled.

Despite the partial defeat, Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, praised the decision.

"It means that freedom of speech is preserved," he told the BBC.

Similarly, Rita Wild of the Lesbian Advocacy Services Initiative said that while there is disappointment, the judgment is actually a "real triumph."

"The harassment provision would have been fantastic had it held because it is desperately needed," she told the BBC. "However, the regulations, which are extraordinarily broad in their scope, have stayed."

The churches and Christian charities that took the legal action include the Christian Institute, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, the Congregational Union of Ireland, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ireland, the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland, and the Fellowship of Independent Methodist Churches. (Hassan Mirza,

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