Lead advocate for gay rights reverses position in cake baking case

by Gregory Tomlin, |
A woman leaves Ashers bakery in Belfast. March 26, 2015. Ashers faced a discrimination case from the Equality Commission after it refused to place a pro-gay marriage slogan on a cake which was to be given to Andrew Muir, Northern Ireland's first openly gay mayor. The bakers refused to make the cake on the grounds that it contradicted their religious beliefs, according to local media. They were found guilty of discrimination. The case is now on appeal. | REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

BELFAST (Christian Examiner) – A gay rights activist at the center of a fight against a family of Christian bakers in Northern Ireland that refused to bake a gay-themed cake has publicly reversed his position now that the family has been found guilty of discrimination.

Same-sex marriage remains illegal in Northern Ireland, but the country's discrimination laws still left Ashers Baking Company in a lurch when it declined to bake the cake for gay rights activist Gareth Lee nearly two years ago, the BBC reported.

In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas.

Lee ordered a Sesame Street themed cake, which the baker originally agreed to bake. However, Ashers later called Lee and told him the Christian company would not place a pro-gay message on the cake.

Lee then sued the baker, telling the court he was made to feel inferior by Ashers Baking Company, Breitbart reported. The judge in the case found the bakers guilty of violating the nation's anti-discrimination laws, in spite of the fact that Ashers' General Manager Daniel McArthur said the bakery only objected to the placing the message on the cake – not to baking the cake itself.

"We've said from the start that our issue was with the message on the cake, not the customer and we didn't know what the sexual orientation of Mr. Lee was, and it wasn't relevant either," McArthur told Breitbart. "We've always been happy to serve any customers that come into our shops."

Supporting Lee in his fight against what he deemed bigotry and homophobia was Peter Tatchell, an Australian-born gay rights advocate who has spent a significant amount of time campaigning for LGBT rights in Great Britain and the United Kingdom.

Now, as the decision in the Ashers case goes to appeal, Tatchell writes that the circumstances have forced him to reevaluate his position. In a commentary in The Guardian, Tatchell claims he now believes he was wrong.

"I profoundly disagree with Ashers' opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians, yet Jesus never once condemned homosexuality, and discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers' religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound. Nevertheless, on reflection the court was wrong to penalize Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision," Tatchell wrote.

That Jesus said nothing of God's created order in marriage is a common, but erroneous argument made by the homosexual lobby. It is rejected by most biblical scholars, but the claim is often used to undercut public opinion.

In this case, Tatchell initially said the lawsuit against Ashers was "well-intended" because it sought to challenge religiously-based homophobia. "But," he wrote, "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," Tatchell wrote.

"However, the court erred by ruling that Lee was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions."

After recognizing that Ashers had, in fact, offered to bake the cake and only objected to the "Support Gay Marriage" message Lee wanted on it, Tatchell said the decision set a dangerous and "worrying precedent."

"Northern Ireland's laws against discrimination on the grounds of political opinion were framed in the context of decades of conflict. They were designed to heal the sectarian divide by preventing the denial of jobs, housing and services to people because of their politics. There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas with which they disagreed," Tatchell wrote.

Tatchell claimed that should a Christian baker be forced to support the ideology of same-sex marriage with his labor, a Muslim could easily be compelled to publish a cartoon of Muhammad – an act which resulted in a terror attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015. He also suggested that a Jewish publication might be forced to publish the work of a Holocaust denier, and another might be forced to place anti-immigrant messages on a cake for Neo-Nazis.

Ironically, he also asked if a gay baker would be forced to accept an order on cake with anti-gay slurs.

"In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas," Tatchell wrote.