It was with great surprise that I read of Peter Tatchell’s change of mind in his column in Monday’s Guardian newspaper.
2 years ago, a bakery run by confessing evangelical Christians in Northern Ireland, refused to make a cake iced with the slogan, ‘Support Gay Marriage.’ The owners, a young married couple, argued that to refuse to produce the cake was not an act of hatred against gay people, but instead an act of love toward God and an act consistent with their moral position. Their opposition, they argued, was to the principle rather than the people.
The Equality Commission of Northern Ireland disagreed with them and fined the bakery. And Peter Tatchell, well known supporter of LGBT issues in the media, was delighted. But now he has changed his mind – as we all are free to after thoughtful consideration. He writes that “much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.”
Tatchell’s explanation of his change of heart is fascinating to read. I agree with his conclusion – an unusual statement to make from someone in my position, I know – as he writes:
The law suit against the bakery was well-intended. It sought to challenge homophobia. But it was a step too far. It pains me to say this, as a long-time supporter of the struggle for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage and gay blood donors remain banned. The equality laws are intended to protect people against discrimination. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith and sexuality.
However, the court erred by ruling that Lee was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions.The Ashers verdict could encourage far-right extremists to demand the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions
His 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.
We look forward to knowing the outcome of the bakery owners’ appeal.