The Christian-owned Ashers Baking Company which refused to make a cake carrying a pro-gay marriage slogan has been found guilty of discrimination after a landmark legal action at Belfast (Northern Ireland) County Court. A fine of £500 plus court costs was imposed, although the owners of the bakery have stated that they may appeal.
Daniel McArthur, who runs Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland, said: “The ruling suggests that all business owners should be willing to promote any cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it.”
“Or as the Equality Commission has suggested, they should perhaps just close down, and that can’t be right.”
The judge’s ruling was that the bakery is a business bound by law, a law which forbids discrimination of any kind against people of any sexual orientation. The remit of the bakery is to provide a service to all, despite any deeply held religious belief.
A few years ago, in the UK, another similar case received much attention. A gay couple was refused accommodation in a double room in a guest house on the grounds of sexual orientation. The guest house in question overtly proclaimed its Christian values in its publicity, so the gay couple were well aware of the ‘deal’. Later it was discovered that this couple were emissaries from an organisation called STONEWALL, on a mission to test the newly instated Equalities Act. A subsequent complaint and court case ensued, and would have bankrupted the Christian couple if a philanthropist had not paid their fine.
The Equalities Act prohibited any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation regarding suitability to adopt a child. The result? Most organisations affiliated to different churches simply closed down.
WHOSE RIGHTS ARE MORE IMPORTANT?
First and foremost, I am not anti-gay, in fact I support gay marriage. I am not anti- Christian. In fact I am not ANTI anything provided it does not cause direct harm to other people. But it seems that the law is heading towards a head on collision with the right to equality.
However, these two cases raise the thorny issue of rights, beliefs, freedom of expression and equality. It would seem that the legal right to equal treatment and the right to freedom of belief are on a collision course. ( I discussed these very issues in a previous article about the Texas cartoon contest.)
From these two rulings, we can deduce that without any doubt the Equalities Act supersedes religious belief. Christians, ( and Muslims) must bow their heads to the Act, and any private thoughts on this issue must be subjugated. I think we can draw a parallel here with the Texas shootings: I argued that just because we have the right to offend, we do not have the obligation to offend.
So, these gay couples/ organisations are making a point, and the State is backing them. So far, the Church of England and all other religious institutions have been exempt from the Equalities Act. But how long will it be before a minority group pushes that button, in the guise of violation of human rights?
You or I might dismiss religious beliefs about homosexuality as being outdated, inconsistent with true equality, and just plain wrong. But others’ religious beliefs do not lead them to this conclusion, so where does it leave their rights?
As I see things, these two confrontations could have been completely avoided. Are the owners of the bakery on a mission to eradicate gay people? No of course not. Are the guesthouse owners on a similar quest? Not that I can discern. No need to invoke the law, then.
If a bakery won’t make you a cake with a pro gay slogan, then just dismiss it as anachronistic and find another bakery who will be more than grateful for the business.
If a guest house is unwilling to accommodate you because of your sexual orientation, then surely you would not feel comfortable there in any case, so just move on and ( easily) find another which will welcome you.
That most gay couples just wish to get on with their lives and have no desire to push the boundaries and test the law is beyond doubt. Those with a different agenda detract from the majority.
To me, it is not a question of equality- in all things that matter, we have that already. It is a question of not deliberately provoking or antagonising those with different beliefs, just because we can.