A gay activist has come out in support of a Christian-owned bakery that refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay message on it.
Back in 2015, Ashers Family Bakery, which is based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was penalized for refusing to make a cake with the slogan, “Support Gay Marriage.” The subsequent legal battle has climbed right up to the heights of the UK’s Supreme Court.
The court sat for two days in Belfast last week, hearing a range of arguments regarding personal religious freedom and rights to equal treatment. However, a decision is unlikely to be made public until next year. Now, despite the complainant being a gay activist, gay human rights activist Peter Tatchell has come out in support of the Christian business.
“Although I strongly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they, nor anyone else, should be required by law to facilitate an idea to which they object,” Tatchell told Christian Today.
Tatchell articulated the important point that, as per religious freedom laws, no business should be forced to endorse a political agenda through the conduct of their private business. The customer served by the staff at Ashers had sought to get the bakery to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan emblazoned across it.
“While Christian bed and breakfast owners and civil partnership registrars were clearly wrong to deny service to gay people, the Ashers case is different. It is about the refusal to facilitate an idea – namely, support for same-sex marriage,” Tatchell added.
The man at the center of the protracted legal case is Ashers Bakery general manager Daniel MacArthur. After his customer, Gareth Lee, filed a lawsuit, the Northern Irish bakery was ordered by the County Court to pay £500 in damages for breaching anti-discrimination laws. When McArthur and his wife Amy appealed the ruling, they lost by ruling in the Court of Appeal.
“Four years ago, my family came under attack for exercising our basic right to live according to our beliefs,” McArthur said as he arrived outside the court last week. “We were asked to use our creative skills to endorse a message at odds with everything we believe – and were sued because we said we couldn’t do that.”
“We didn’t say no because of the customer; we’d served him before, we’d serve him again. It was because of the message. This has always been about the message. But some people want the law to make us support something with which we disagree. We’re often asked how this case has impacted us as a family. It’s been hard.
If equality law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people’s causes, then equality law needs to change.”
The distinction between the person and the message is a critical one, as it raises major questions over how we legislate regarding the inevitable disagreements within our public discourse. As Tatchell highlighted, the laws that are intended to ensure fair treatment among all people must not encroach on the subjective views held by any individual.
“The equality laws are intended to protect people – not ideas – against discrimination,” he added.
Tatchell made another interesting distinction. He argued that Ashers did not “refuse service” to Lee. “They simply refused to decorate his cake with a pro-gay message,” he said. “That is their right in a democratic society.”
Back in 2016, Ashers lost its appeal at the Royal Court of Justice in Belfast after judges ruled that the business had engaged in “direct discrimination” as it would not have objected to producing a cake with a slogan that supported heterosexual marriage.
Despite the lengthy and tiresome legal battle, MacArthur and his family continue to trust in Jesus for strength and wisdom.
“We’re not on our own and we continue to trust daily in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to equip us with everything we need,” he said last week.
Ashers Bakery has been heavily supported by the nondenominational Christian pro-life charity, the Christian Institute, which seeks “the furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the United Kingdom” and “the advancement of education.”
According to the Christian Institute’s website, the Ashers case “demonstrates the need for the law to reasonably accommodate family-run businesses with firmly-held beliefs,” adding that the family is “being backed by The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund.”
(H/T: Christian Today)