The 'gay-cake' that did nothing for the rights of anyone

The case of a Belfast bakery refusing to make a cake adorned with slogans supporting same-sex marriage was everything to do with the issue of freedom of conscience and nothing to do with the rights of homosexuals, writes Christopher Goff.

I must confess to never having really been on the same wavelength to those homosexuals with whom I have been acquainted. But the fact that I tend not identify with members of the homosexual community has never stopped me from supporting the cause of rights for homosexuals, and for one I am now pleased to live in a society where same-sex marriage is allowed. In fact, I could never quite understand why two people of the same sex were ever barred from getting married in the first place.

That many Christians view marriage as a 'Christian' thing is something I find objectionable. Marriage was around a long time before the imposition of Christianity in the British Isles, and the same also applies to mainland Europe. Prior to the arrival of Christianity in mainland Europe there existed a number of Pagan traditions I think all of which featured marriage in one form or another, including in Italy, the spiritual home of the Roman Catholic Church. Those Christians who nowadays oppose same-sex marriage usually do so in their belief that it is something which is at odds with what the Bible teaches, and of course followers of other religions use a similar justification for their own opposition to same-sex marriage.

Two years ago, Andrew Muir, Northern Ireland's first openly homosexual Mayor and a member of the Alliance Party, was hosting an event in his North Down constituency in support of the 2014 International Day Against Homophobia and had asked a homosexual-rights activist with whom he was acquainted to order a cake with a same-sex marriage theme to be made for the occasion. This individual, Gareth Lee, who was reportedly a volunteer for a Belfast-based homosexual-rights group called QueerSpace, then asked a local bakery company called Ashers, a business run by devout Christians and in general accordance with their religious beliefs, to make a cake decorated with the words 'Support Gay Marriage' and an image of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie. However, Ashers Bakery Company declined the work, with the firm's General Manager, David McArthur, later saying of their decision: "The directors and myself looked at it and considered it and thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs. It certainly was at odds with what the Bible teaches, and on the following Monday we rang the customer to let him know that we couldn't take his order". Sometime later, Mr Lee made a complaint to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, and then on 26 October 2016, Belfast's Court of Appeal upheld the original verdict of an earlier Court hearing that Mr Lee had indeed been discriminated against because of his sexual orientation.

That Ashers Bakery Company did not know Mr Lee's sexual orientation when they declined his custom seemed not to matter to the Court of Appeal. The idea that employees of this particular company either ask or guess the sexual orientation of their prospective customers, and then decline the custom of homosexuals while accepting the custom of heterosexuals, is ridiculous. However, in response to this analysis some people might claim that the company must have known the sexual orientation of their prospective customer, Mr Lee, on account of the cake decoration that he had ordered. But, and of course, only an imbecile would assume that all volunteer activists of homosexual-rights groups must themselves be homosexual.

People are now talking about the so-called 'gay-cake' case in terms of a clash between the important issues of religious freedom and rights for homosexuals. But it is not quite as simple as that. That this case became something bigger than the relatively straightforward issue of deciding whether Gareth Lee had or had not been discriminated against because of his sexual orientation is very worrying indeed. And that the second highest Court in the land – only the Supreme Court is higher – should so badly lose sight of its terms of reference points to the existence of some kind of extra-judicial agenda, like a process whereby the State sanctions the holding of certain 'accepted' beliefs while at the same time ruling that it is illegal to hold opposing beliefs.

Homosexuals never had anything to fear from a bakery company in Belfast. In fact, no-one in life need fear a cake shop. Instead, what people should fear is a State fervently determined to use equality legislation as an instrument to curtail people's freedom of conscience and also their freedom to believe in what they want.

Nothing good has come from the 'gay-cake' case. This case has done nothing for the rights of homosexuals, just like I think it has done nothing for the reputations of those individuals who were behind the bringing of the case. What Gareth Lee should have done two years ago and when Ashers Bakery declined his custom is given a representative of the company a piece of his mind and then taken his custom elsewhere.

Having the State interfere in the way that people think about matters of conscience is straight out of the Soviet Union. In fact, if one could travel back in time to the Soviet-era I think they might find in Moscow an institution mirroring exactly the work of Britain's Equality Commission, just like they might also find an equivalent institution in present-day Pyongyang.

And since the people behind the bringing of the 'gay-cake' case clearly feel so strongly about the issue of equality, might I suggest to them an idea for another project? Around early April time, perhaps they could visit a Jewish bakery, like they might find in a city such as Manchester or London, and place an order for a cake commemorating the birth of Adolf Hitler. Of course, no-one in his or her right mind, and as a matter of conscience, would expect such a business to accept such an undertaking. Indeed, one hardly needs to point out that the proposal is one that would cause considerably more upset than someone asking of a bunch of devout Christians to make them a cake supporting same-sex marriage. But if anyone were to say of this scenario 'Well, it's a different matter', I don't see any difference to the 'gay-cake' case whatsoever other than the prospective complaint being one of discrimination on the grounds of 'ethnic origin' as opposed to 'sexual orientation'. You see what I am getting at here is that a Mr Bloody Awkward could complain that his request for a cake commemorating the birth of Adolf Hitler was turned down because of his ethnic origin, in other words because he is a Gentile and not a Jew. And if the Jewish bakery in question were to say in their defence 'But we didn't even know the customer was a Gentile and not a Jew', I would say to them 'If that excuse didn't work for Ashers Bakery Company, why should it work for you?'

Copyright © Christopher Goff
Tag: Freedom
Uploaded: 3 November, 2016.