Gay rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell has criticised the decision by an appeal court in Belfast to uphold a legal ruling against a Christian bakery, saying that the ruling has “opened a can of worms.”
Following the news that Christian bakers have lost their appeal against a fine which they incurred for refusing to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan, Peter Tatchell said: “This verdict is a defeat for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers can be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also implies that gay bakers could be forced by law to decorate cakes with homophobic slogans.”
He continued: “Although I strongly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be compelled to facilitate a political idea that they oppose.
“Ashers did not discriminate against the customer, Gareth Lee, because he was gay. They objected to the message he wanted on the cake: ‘Support gay marriage.’ Discrimination against LGBT people is wrong and is rightly unlawful. But in a free society, people should be able to discriminate against ideas they disagree with. I am saddened that the court did not reach the same conclusion.
“The judgement opens a can of worms. It means that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be required to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial. It could also encourage far right extremists to demand that bakers and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.”
Mr Tatchell warned that the ruling had set a “dangerous, authoritarian precedent” which was “open to serious abuse.”
“Discrimination against people should be illegal but not discrimination against ideas and opinions,” Mr Tatchell said.
But appeal court judges said today that the bakers were not allowed to provide a service only to those who supported their religious beliefs.
The owners of Ashers Bakery in Belfast refused to bake a cake for gay activist Gareth Lee because the slogan contradicted their Christian beliefs.
But Belfast’s County Court ruled in May that the bakers had “unlawfully discriminated” against a gay man.
The court found that the bakery had breached equality legislation by refusing to bake the cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.
District Judge Isobel Brownlie said although the Ashers held religious beliefs they were not above the law and ordered the firm to pay agreed damages of £500.
The appeal court upheld the original court’s decision in its ruling today.
After the judgment was delivered Ashers’ General Manager Daniel McArthur spoke outside court of his family’s disappointment.
“We’re extremely disappointed with today’s ruling. If equality law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people’s causes, then equality law needs to change.
“This ruling undermines democratic freedom. It undermines religious freedom. It undermines free speech.”
Meanwhile,the Christian Institute has said the law should be changed to protect freedom of conscience.
The Institute’s Deputy Director for Public Affairs, Simon Calvert said: “Equality laws are there to protect people from discrimination, not to force people to associate themselves with a cause they oppose. But those same laws have become a weapon in the hands of those who want to oppress anyone who dissents from the politically-correct norms of the moment. The law needs to change before more damage is done.”