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    Main | 2019 Inspection Framework and E&D and British values »
    Wednesday
    Oct172018

    Had their cake and eat it?

    What do you think about the Supreme Court ruling this month that a Christian baker did not have to make a cake with the message ‘support gay marriage’? Discrimination? Or a victory for article 10 of the European convention on human rights?

    In October 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that a Belfast bakery run by Christians was not obliged to make a cake emblazoned with the message “support gay marriage”.

    The bakers, the Ashers, had refused to produce the cake for Gareth Lee, who wanted to take it to a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia.

    The judgment reverses earlier court decisions that the bakers had discriminated against Lee, who is gay, on the grounds of his sexual orientation. However, the Supreme Court found the bakery did not refuse to fulfil Lee’s order because of his sexual orientation.

    The judges in the Supreme Court said:

    ‘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, but that is not what happened in this case’

    ‘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. This court has held that nobody should be forced to have or express a political opinion in which he does not believe’.

    ‘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.’

    Does everyone agree with the ruling?

    The decision has been met with a mixed response.

    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 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.’

    Dr Martin Treacy, an associate university lecturer said ‘I applaud the supreme court ruling that the Ashers bakery had the right to refuse to bake a cake with a message in support of gay marriage. As a strong supporter of gay rights, I hold a very different view from the Christian family that runs Ashers, but it is surely right that they are not compelled by law to produce a message they profoundly disagree with. They didn’t refuse to serve a gay man as such (they would have happily sold him a cake without this message). This ruling equally protects a gay baker who – if this ruling had gone the other way – could have been forced to produce a cake with an offensive homophobic message on it’.

    However Steven Greer, Professor of human rights at the University of Bristol Law School said ‘the core difficulty with this judgment lies in the assumption that being required to convey the opinions of others, with which the deliverer disagrees, is a breach of the latter’s right to freedom of belief and/or expression.’

    ‘Yet, if this were the case, it would also be true of post office workers delivering mail, and printers printing material, containing points of view with which they disagree… Allowing certain providers of goods and services but not others to choose which otherwise lawful messages they are prepared to deliver, as the supreme court has, effectively enables them to have their cake and eat it.’

    What do you think? Clearly, there is a wider debate here that society needs to consider in the coming months.

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