The Ashers "gay cake" verdict is a victory for freedom of expression

Daniel and Amy McArthur who own Ashers Bakery in Belfast speak as they leave the Supreme Court in London on Oct. 10. 

This week it was the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom's turn to decide a case, in which a Northern Ireland bakery refused to bake a cake and decorate it with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.

Hopefully, this absurdly drawn-out, four-year battle is now at an end - although don't bet on it. Britain's "Supreme" Court is not really worthy of the name.

It wasn't immediately clear if the plaintiffs plan to appeal the ruling to the European Court of Human Rights.

Perfocal enables members of the public to book photographers in major United Kingdom cities is, after learning of the details of a job they were booked for, refusing to share the photographs taken with The Christian Institute, a charity and lobby group supporting the owners of a Northern Irish bakery at the centre of a discrimination row. The images were then withheld and a refund issued. Lee subsequently sued the bakery for sexual discrimination-his action backed by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

"However, while we now have some clarity around the freedom of those providing services to resist the requirement to message views that they do not support, there will no doubt be other cases where the facts are not quite so straightforward and where it may be more hard to disassociate the message from the customer and their orientation or religious beliefs", he said.

The district judge at the original trial made no finding that the order was cancelled because of Lee's sexual orientation.

"If the Supreme Court had ruled against Ashers it would have established a risky principle that businesses can not refuse a customer's request to propagate a message even if it is sexist, anti-gay or xenophobic, and even if they have a conscientious objection to it", he wrote. There was "no evidence that the bakery had discriminated on that or any other prohibited ground in the past", as well as evidence that the shop both employed and served gay people and treated them in a non-discriminatory way. His cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for. "But that is not what happened in this case", she said giving the judgment in court in London Oct. 10.

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As a freedom of expression and human rights defender, I believe that people should have the right to express ideas with which they agree and also to refuse to facilitate ideas with which they disagree.

In 2016, the couple received some unlikely support from prominent gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who described the case against the couple as a "step too far". Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? "Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs?" Lots of people - gay, straight and bisexual - support gay marriage, the court pointed out, and hence a message in favour of it was not a proxy for any particular sexual orientation. The McArthurs said that they could not provide the cake Lee wanted, citing their Christian beliefs barring gay marriage.

While far from ideal, the United Kingdom is one of the most tolerant countries in the world.

BUT the equality industry has regrettably moved on from promoting tolerance and acceptance.

In 2014, and still today, same-sex marriage is not legal in Northern Ireland. Why the need to bully and threaten those who continue to have a religious or some other ethical objection to it? Baking the cake would have put the bakers in support of the local campaign for gay marriage, C4M said.

A true liberal position is to support gay marriage but also to support the right of people to hold views against gay marriage. Amy McArthur, who runs Ashers with her husband and family, phoned Lee the following Monday to inform him that the company could not fulfil the order because Ashers was a Christian business and the slogan was at odds with the family's religious beliefs. It is sad - and needlessly provocative - that it ended up being dragged through the courts.


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