A prominent gay rights campaigner has performed a U-turn on the Ashers Bakery case, revealing that he now supports the bakery that refused to make a cake carrying a pro-gay marriage slogan.
Admitting that he had initially condemned the Christian-run Belfast bakery over the refusal to make Gareth Lee’s cake, Peter Tatchell explained his change of mind. “Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion,” he wrote in The Guardian. His comments came only days before the bakery’s appeal against the decision was to be heard in Belfast’s Court of Appeal.
As reported in The Universe, the bakery, run by the McArthur family, was found guilty of discrimination last week and ordered to pay £500 for refusing to make a cake for Mr Lee, a member of LGBT activist group Queer Space.
He had requested a sponge cake to celebrate International Anti Homophobia Day and wanted it to feature a pro-gay marriage slogan and Sesame Street characters, Bert and Ernie.
After taking the order, the bakery later phoned Mr Lee to explain that the order could not be fulfilled. Karen McArthur, a founder and company director took the order to avoid confrontation, despite knowing that she could not fulfil it due to her faith. Belfast County Court ruled that Ashers Bakery had discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Mr Tatchell made clear that he “profoundly” disagrees with Ashers’ opposition to same-sex love and marriage and supports protests against them. “They claim to be Christians, yet Jesus never once condemned homosexuality, and discrimination is not a Christian value,” he wrote. “Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound.”
However, Mr Tatchell admitted that, on reflection, the court’s decision to penalise the bakery, and his endorsement of this, was wrong. Explaining that he had sought to challenge homophobia, the gay rights campaigner said it pained him to say that he now realises it was a step too far.
Mr Tatchell outlined the equality laws, which are intended to protect people against discrimination, before admitting that the bakery had not discriminated against Mr Lee. “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.
“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.”