Some thoughts on big gay cakes and #Ashers

The cake design

If you were to ask me what my two favourite things in the world are, I’d probably say freedom of expression, and delicious cake. This story brings the two subjects together so scrumptiously that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to yammer on about it.

First, some background. Some gay bloke approached a baker in Northern Ireland and asked him whether he’d bake a cake, bearing a picture of Bert and Ernie, along with a slogan promoting gay marriage.

The baker agreed, only – after some consideration, to change his mind. He said that it was against his religion, or some bullshit. Who cares why? All that matters is that he said he wasn’t going to bake the cake. Today, a judge in Northern Ireland decreed his decision to be unlawful.

Let’s leave the legal wrangling to those better qualified to wrangle about legalities, and concern ourselves with whether this decision was right or wrong. I think it’s wrong. Here’s why.

Let me first pin my colours to the mast. As most of you are doubtless aware, I am an atheist, and one who believes that gays should be allowed to marry one another. Moreover, I believe that Christianity is very silly indeed, and worthy of ridicule. Like every religion.

However.

However fervently I might support gay marriage, I am not about to impose this belief on anyone else. Least of all some baker in Northern Ireland. That would be somewhat illiberal of me, I think.

Here are a few sentences containing the word ‘should’.

People should be able to write, draw and say whatever they like. Conversely, they should also be free to not write, draw and say whatever they like. They should be able to do so in whatever medium they choose – including delightful frosted icing.

I have seen this controversy framed as one in which we liberals must make a compromise between the rights of the individual to free expression, and protecting minority groups from discrimination.

I fail to see any evidence that discrimination has occurred, here. No-one’s rights have been infringed. There is no such thing as the right to have a cake baked for you. If there is any party has been discriminated against, it is the bakery.

Of course, if the message on the cake had been slightly different, then this conversation would be different.* For example:

Now, it seems to me that there are some political messages so controversial that a baker should be entitled not to bake them onto a cake. Which poses a question.  Exactly who should arbitrate what constitutes a controversial political message? Is there anyone worthier of this job than the person baking the cake?

We can all think of political messages which we do not agree with. We can all – I would hope – think of some which we disagree with so strongly that we would never bake them into a cake. If someone were to ask me to write an article arguing that gay people should not be allowed to marry, I’d refuse (unless the money was really, really good). That such a decision should result in a lawsuit is laughable.  And terrifying.

Here’s the thing.  No-one is going to be persuaded of the merits of gay marriage using this sort of authoritarian bullying tactic. Simply decreeing certain opinions to be outside of some greater moral good, and therefore worthy of punishment, sounds quite like the worst sort of religious ‘persuasion’ to me.

*I am obviously not comparing gay marriage with Nazism or the Islamic State. I use them only to illustrate that there are things which most of us would refuse to bake into a cake – even if we had previously agreed to do so.

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