The Great British Cake Row was settled for the second time this week, as judges in Northern Ireland ruled that Ashers bakery were 'unlawful' in their refusal to make a cake featuring a pro-gay marriage message. Wider society has found itself split by the ruling, even Peter Tatchell, a prominent LGBT+ rights activist has taken the side of the bakers - but it's the wrong side to be on.
The debate essentially boils down to two oppositional freedoms; freedom of speech and freedom to be. Many see no problem with a business refusing service to someone for political or conscious motivations. In this very instance, the Ashers bakery claimed they were unable to produce a 'support same sex marriage' cake on grounds of religious conscience.
By accepting that reasoning, we head in to murky waters. Peter Tatchell claims reasons of religious conscious are to be respected, and thus supports Ashers' refusal to make the cake. However, he proceeds this comment by attesting that Christ had never admonished homosexuality and the Bible had never spoken against same-sex unions. For me, this is where the bakery's and Tatchell's argument folds and crumbles. How can we accept bigotry in the guise of 'religious conscience' if the religion in question requires no such view as the one proclaimed?
If you enforce blanket bans on services for certain demographics like gay people, you set a dangerous precedent, that discrimination in service is okay. The couple on the receiving end of the lawsuit have readily admitted that they would produce cakes with messages in support of 'traditional' marriage. And, herein lies the problem, despite the bakery's protestations, the issue was not with the nature of the message being political but the nature of it being pro-gay. That is discrimination.
The argument cannot be held that refusing to make the cake was one that rejected political messaging, as that very refusal becomes a political message in itself. The bakery purports to be opposed to political baked goods, but fails to address this inconsistency. The bakers claim they would not have made a cake carrying a homophobic message, but that is different and does not reprieve the dismissal of an inclusive political message for private use.
As there is no rebuking that the cake would have been made had it promoted opposite-sex marriage, the decision was therefore taken purely on the basis that it supported LGBT+ rights. Ideally, yes, people should be able to oppose LGBT+ rights, if that is their own morality - but should they be able to refuse service to people because they do? I don't believe so.
Opening a business, means you trade with people regardless of their background, gender, race, religion or sexuality. It is a dangerous precedent to set that the right to discriminate against people is more important than the right to simply be. If in all good conscience, these bakers feel they cannot serve what is estimated to be between 5-10% of the population then I question why they bothered opening a service-based company in the first place.
After all, this cake was requested for a private function, an event in which the message of the cake would not have far-reaching effect and to borrow a popular idiom, would be preaching to the choir of activists already on the side of marriage equality. This makes it clear that the bakery's decision was spiteful.
Whenever freedoms come in to opposition like this, it is a challenge for liberals like I to pick a side, but in this case, I am steadfast in my belief that the freedom to be, is greater than the freedom to discriminate - and that's what this bakery has done.
Of course, there is just reason to debate that the powers of the market can, and should, do far greater damage to the bakery than the state could, but this discrimination is still not okay. If you have blanket bans on certain people in a service based industry, don't enter in to it in the first place or swallow your bigotry and crack on.
In Utopia, we would coalesce all freedoms. In the real world, where we are presented with moral quagmires like the choice between the freedom to discriminate against people or the freedom to be, the greater right is absolutely clear.
A worrying trend is taking hold in which bigotry is become more and more tolerated, it's a trend we must challenge and reverse. I am not a fan of state intervention in business matters, but when they infringe on people's rights due to something they cannot help, it is important for us to make positive intervention. If we don't reach this conclusion, we fail the LGBT+ community. Ultimately, it would be a sad indictment on today's society if we hold the freedom to discriminate as sacrosanct but relegate the freedom to be to a peripheral privilege.