#Soapbox: Why Ashers was right, but the conscience clause was wrong…

From reader AJ Fence

I am pro gay marriage and pro cake. I think the conscience clause is a horrid little idea that would declare open season on discrimination against LGBT people and even religious people themselves. However, I do believe Ashers bakery should have the right to refuse to bake the cake in question.

The Cake

By requesting the the slogan “support gay marriage”, this was a cake making a political statement, not a wedding cake. I believe that if a trader does not wish to promulgate political slogans that he/she does not agree with then he/she should not have to.

We must ask ourselves how we would react if someone asked us to print a t-shirt or bake a cake with a slogan that we did not agree with.

“Bomb Syria”? “Increase tuition fees”? “Cut working age benefits”? These are all recent legitimate political debates that we would be forced to promote if Ashers could forced to bake the cake. Just because Jim Allister says it doesn’t always mean it’s wrong. Freedom of speech surely requires freedom of silence.

There will be those who argue that gay marriage is an issue so fundamental to equality within society that it is beyond politics. I sympathise with this view, but must recognise that it is a change law that has been debated in legislatures across the world in recent years, which in my view makes it undeniably a political issue.
The Conscience Clause

Refusing to assist in the promotion of a cause you do not agree with is one thing. Refusing goods and services to those whose lifestyle you disagree with is a separate issue. It is unjust and incompatible with democracy to allow such discrimination.

The zealots behind the conscience seem excited by the opportunity to discriminate against homosexuals but appear blind to the possibility that the very same clause could be used against them.

Could a Presbyterian dry cleaner refuse to wash trousers that may be worn while worshiping in a church headed by the Antichrist? Could a Catholic butcher refuse to sell sausages that may be eaten on Good Friday? Could any religious person refuse to serve those not adhering to the teachings of his/her own particular sect? Leaving aside questions about its morality, a conscience clause would be an unworkable mess of claim and counter-claim.

The DUP’s championing of the clause raises questions about its leadership. This was a lost cause that was always going to be subject to a petition of concern and, in a similar case in 2013, the UK Supreme Court had already ruled against conscience-based discrimination.

With a hung parliament the likely outcome of the May general election, the DUP could have extracted many concessions by propping up a minority Tory government. However, its views on this issue are in such stark contrast to public opinion on the island of Great Britain that no party will want to be seen snuggling up to it.

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.