This is good news:
A Belfast bakery run by evangelical Christians was not obliged to make a cake emblazoned with the message “support gay marriage”, the supreme court has ruled, overturning a £500 damages award imposed on it.
Ashers had refused to produce the cake, featuring the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie, in 2014 for Gareth Lee, who supports the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. He wanted to take it to a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia.
Crucially the judgement, which was unanimous, was based on the fact that the baker wasn’t discriminating against Lee for being gay, but objected to the message being put on the cake:
“It is deeply humiliating, and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or any of the other protected personal characteristics,” Hale said in the judgment.
“But that is not what happened in this case and it does the project of equal treatment no favours to seek to extend it beyond its proper scope.”
Freedom of expression, as guaranteed by article 10 of the European convention on human rights, includes the right “not to express an opinion which one does not hold”, Hale added. “This court has held that nobody should be forced to have or express a political opinion in which he does not believe,” she said.
“The bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to Mr Lee because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage, but that is quite different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.”
Quite so, and it was on this issue of compelled speech which the United States Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Colorado baker back in June. It is good to see the right to freedom of expression upheld by the highest courts on both sides of the Atlantic.
After the ruling, Lee said: “I’m very confused about what this actually means.
It means you cannot demand that a business or service provider promotes political messages with which they fundamentally disagree, even if you’re gay.
We need certainty when you go to a business.
Yeah? Try getting a delivery date from a sofa company.
I’m concerned that this has implications for myself and for every single person.
Indeed it does. It means everyone must now be fully aware business owners cannot be forced to express opinions via their work with which they do not agree. If this concerns you, perhaps take a look at your own behaviour.
The original decision to turn down his order had left him feeling like a “second-class citizen”, he said.
A little bit like how I feel whenever I try to open a bank account or buy a bed. But making people feel bad isn’t illegal.
Lee said he would be considering his options, which could involve appealing to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg.
So who’s paying for this? Ah:
Michael Wardlow, the head of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said it had spent £250,000 supporting Lee’s appeal. It will now have to pay costs.
The British taxpayer, that’s who’s paying. Little wonder Lee has pursued this with enthusiasm; if he was paying £250 an hour for lawyers from his own pocket he would probably have just gone to a different bakery.
He said: “We are very disappointed. This judgment leaves a lack of clarity in equality law. Our understanding of certainty of the law has been overturned.
On the contrary, it has provided some much-needed clarity. That your taxpayer-funded, government department decided it had won the culture wars, and erroneously though people could be forced by law into saying things they didn’t want to, is a consequence of your own arrogance.
The supreme court seems to see this as something that should be done on a case-by-case basis.
And you seem incapable of reading a judgement.
A spokesperson for the gay rights organisation Stonewall said: “This is a backward step for equality which needs to be urgently addressed. The decision that Ashers bakery were not discriminatory in the so-called ‘gay cake’ row is very concerning for anyone who cares about equality.”
But very uplifting for anyone who cares about liberty. Now I don’t like Peter Tatchell much, not least because he seems keen to force LGBQT madness on Russians, but he’s spot on here:
But the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, said: “This verdict is a victory for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers cannot be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also means that gay bakers cannot be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans.
“Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose. The ruling does not permit anyone to discriminate against LGBT people. Such discrimination rightly remains unlawful.”