Opinion

Monday 20 January 2020

Comment: Here is the hypocrisy at the heart of the 'gay wedding cake' case

Gareth Lee speaking outside the court in Belfast yesterday. Photo: PA
Gareth Lee speaking outside the court in Belfast yesterday. Photo: PA

Suzanne Breen

Seven years ago, I attended one of the best weddings I've ever been at. Two gay friends got hitched in Belfast. After the civil partnership was over, we made our way round to the magnificent Merchant Hotel for the reception.

Everything that followed was pure sophistication and class.

It was a joy to behold compared with some of the tacky, tawdry straight weddings I've been at. The speeches, the music and the food were perfection.

A splendid cake, topped with two grooms, took pride of place at the banquet.

My then 18-month-old daughter, Alanna, had to be stopped from making an excited dive to devour the elaborate edifice.

Ashers wouldn't have baked that cake for my friends, and I think they'd have been mistaken and narrow-minded to refuse the order.

Colin, Karen, Daniel and Amy McArthur of Ashers Baking Company speaking to the media outside Belfast High Court yesterday. Photo: PA
Colin, Karen, Daniel and Amy McArthur of Ashers Baking Company speaking to the media outside Belfast High Court yesterday. Photo: PA

Yet I will strenuously defend their right to do so despite what the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

This puts me on the 'wrong' side of the argument, many liberals and gay rights' activists tell me. I'm standing with the bigots and bible-bashers.

Well, I'm standing with Peter Tatchell too, the most courageous campaigner of his generation who blazed a trail for gay rights long before it became fashionable.

His activism extends beyond wrapping a rainbow flag around himself at a Pride parade. He bore the bruises for attempting a citizen's arrest of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. He was punched and nearly knocked unconscious during a gay rights protest in Moscow.

Mr Tatchell says yesterday's ruling has set "a dangerous, authoritarian precedent" and, as usual, he is spot on. It is a serious defeat for freedom of expression.

For those who see Gareth Lee as a champion, and the McArthurs as the baddies, imagine this scenario. A gay person is working in a Belfast bakery when a customer comes in and orders a cake for an evangelical Christian function.

He asks that it be decorated with a marzipan man and woman and the slogan, 'Oppose gay marriage'. The shop assistant politely declines. He says he can't, in conscience, fulfil the order. He is hauled before the courts on discrimination charges.

Those now denouncing Ashers would hail that gay shop assistant as a hero. That's the hypocrisy at the heart of this whole matter.

They'd say it didn't matter what any court ruled, that morally the shop assistant had done the right thing.

He had taken the hard, but rewarding, road. He'd stood up for his principles.

I support gay marriage wholeheartedly. If Northern Ireland ever has a referendum like the Republic's, I won't need to read any literature to know I'm voting 'Yes'. But forcing another human being to produce a political slogan with which they disagree is just plain wrong. There are no 'ifs' or 'buts' about it.

A Catholic worker should never be ordered to ice a cake saying 'Support Orange marches'. A Protestant worker should never be forced to ice a cake honouring the hunger strikers.

Most of us instinctively know that mandating staff in either scenario would be undemocratic and unjust. And that's why many people can't celebrate this verdict. The activists backing this case may have notched up two courtroom victories but they have lost my sympathy, and respect, in the process.

For the record, I wouldn't ice a cake in support of fox-hunting. And I find it disturbing that gay rights activists have championed a course of action which would force me to legally do so.

Irish Independent

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