BELFAST, Northern Ireland — A homosexual rights activist states that he has changed his mind and now supports the rights of a Christian bakery that was fined last year for declining to print the phrase “support gay marriage” on a cake. He says that while discrimination against people is wrong, rejecting ideas is indeed lawful.
As previously reported, in May 2014, Ashers Baking Company in Newtonabbey—named after Genesis 49:20—was approached by a same-sex “marriage” supporter to bake a cake that was to feature the phrase, as well as the logo for the homosexual advocacy group QueerSpace. According to the Belfast Telegraph, the cake was for an event in observance of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Karen McArthur, the mother of manager Daniel McArthur, 24, initially accepted the order as she didn’t want the man to feel embarrassed. But as the matter was discussed with other family members, it was agreed upon that they could not go through with putting the message on the cake in good conscience before God. Daniel McArthur told reporters that the company contacted the customer and offered a refund, explaining that same-sex “marriage” is against their Christian beliefs.
However, the customer, Gareth Lee, soon reported Ashers Baking Company to the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland, which in turn sent a warning to to McArthur, stating that he and his bakery had discriminated against Lee.
Last November, the Commission ordered the bakery to pay compensation or face legal action. As the McArthur’s refused, the case moved forward in court. Judge Isobel Brownlie then ruled against the McArthurs, declaring them “guilty of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation,” and ordered the bakers to pay a fine equating to nearly $800 U.S. dollars.
Now, two days before the case is to be considered in an appeals court, a prominent homosexual activist who previously condemned Ashers is defending the business.
“I have changed my mind,” writes Peter Tatchell in a piece for The Guardian. “Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.”
He said that he views the case differently because of the wording that was requested on the cake, and said that businesses shouldn’t have to print messages that violate their conscience.
“[Lee’s] cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order,” Tatchell wrote.
Asher’s Bakery has stated that it is willing to serve homosexuals in general—one would not know about another’s sexual behavior unless they had requested a cake for such reasons—but should not be forced to decorate cakes with messages that urge others to “support gay marriage” in violation of their faith.
Tatchell said that he disagrees with Brownlie’s ruling, as he believes that it reads more into the law than was intended.
“There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas with which they disagreed,” he contended.
“This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs?” Tatchell asked. “If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions.”
He separated discrimination against people from the rejection of objectionable ideas.
“In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object,” Tatchell said. “Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas.”