Last May, the owners of Ashers Bakery in Belfast was convicted of sexual orientation and political discrimination for refusing to bake a cake that would have said “support gay marriage”. To do so, the Ashers claimed, would have violated their Christian convictions. In a surprising (yet welcome) twist, LGBT activist Peter Tatchell has changed his position from once endorsing the court order for the Ashers to pay the fine. Now he says the bakers have the right to refuse service because discrimination against ideas should not be unlawful. He writes:
“[Customer Gareth Lee’s] 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. Despite this, Judge Isobel Brownlie said that refusing the pro-gay marriage slogan was unlawful indirect sexual orientation discrimination. On the question of political discrimination, the judge said Ashers had denied Lee service based on his request for a message supporting same-sex marriage. She noted: “If the plaintiff had ordered a cake with the words ‘support marriage’ or ‘support heterosexual marriage’ I have no doubt that such a cake would have been provided.” Brownlie thus concluded that by refusing to provide a cake with a pro-gay marriage wording Ashers had treated him less favourably, contrary to the law.”
Tatchell points out that attempting to punish this kind of alleged discrimination is logically incoherent because it opens the door for customers forcing gay bakers to bake cakes with homophobic slurs on them.
This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages.
This test of consistency is exactly how you can know that the LGBT’s definition of discrimination is flawed. Because of this, Tatchell now appears to realize that some forms of discrimination should not be punished. He writes:
[I]t 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.
And that’s what this really boils down to, not whether any old kind of discrimination is taking place but whether the discrimination is appropriate or inappropriate. Good on Tatchell for figuring out the difference.
For Tatchell’s full article, click here.