Gay rights campaigner Tatchell switches to support gay cake appeal

Peter Tatchell no less, who is second only  to Jeff Dudgeon as a gay rights campaigner, will have given some comfort to those who although they support gay rights have qualms about the legal finding against Asher’s the bakers. On the eve of the Asher’s appeal, Tatchell has changed his mind.  Jeff had reservations about the case from the start.

When it comes to Ashers and the cake, I don’t think there was ever any intention to start that dispute. I am concerned that the Equality Commission have now added political discrimination to the discrimination on sexual orientation as a ground on running their case against Asher’s.

Political discrimination is unique to Northern Ireland, no other country has a political discrimination law, it was never intended to be used except in the Catholic/Protestant dispute. I think they have twisted the thing about and it is unwise. It is a test case again, and this is a test that would be best put aside.

Well maybe,or maybe not quite. By introducing the Fair Employment and Treatment Order,  secretary of state Peter Hain was  provoking the deadlocked Assembly: ” if you don’t like  this trendy stuff from New Labour, get your act together and resume your powers.”

Now Tatchell has found a useful distinction between action against gay people and opinion against aspects of gay rights

(Gareth Lee’s)  cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order..

( This is where legal argument usefully parts from” common sense.”

In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas..

But Tatchell should have quit when he was ahead..

There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas with which they disagreed. The judge concluded that service providers are required to facilitate any “lawful” message, even if they have a conscientious objection.

This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages.

This point surely doesn’t fly. It’s doubtful whether any court anywhere would insist in publication of messages like these.  Holocaust denial is actually illegal in Austria and some of the others are clearly inflammatory.

So if you were to follow Tatchell, might it be OK after all for a hotelier to refuse a gay couple a double bed? Presumably not, as hiring a bedroom involves  no public demonstration of a cause which the hotelier might feel obliged to challenge. Going to bed is usually a private activity – unless the hotelier invades the bedroom. Surely not what good livin’ folks would ever dream of doing…

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  • Reader

    Firstly, I note that Peter Tatchell has finally come round to the position that I held all along.
    Brian – you challenge a part of his argument – where he points out the consequences of treating a law against discrimination as though it was a law compelling cooperation with a political campaign. There’s no point nitpicking at his examples – I am sure you can pick an example that resonates with you – a newspaper compelled to print a full page promotion for re-partition; a baker compelled to bake a cake *opposing* gay marriage; a printing company obliged to print posters for UKIP.
    And your final paragraph is a leap into other territory that has already been covered, and settled in law. A law that prevents you from discriminating against people is not the same as a law that would compel you to support a political campaign.

  • Granni Trixie

    My gut reaction is that I don’t agree with Tatchell but his rethink does force one to dig deeper to understand the issues.
    I question that given the appeal is about to be heard why did he not hold fire (and chosen his battles?).

    Seems to me that if one is in the market place a business ought to be appropriately professional in serving the public. Not as the Asher couple claim to ‘live for Christ’ in their business. I suppose it’s a clash in values.

    All the time people have to toe the line in the workplace which can mean that they are going against their personal views.
    Would be interesting to know what businesses such as printers do about such conflicts….particularly in the circumstances prevailing in NI where extremism prevails.
    Incidentally, As a teacher in a Catholic school taking small groups in “Education for Love”, I certainly kept to the rules and did not talk about contraception. I consider this was being professional …if not very sensible.

  • Graham Parsons

    Does the political discrimination legislation in N.Ireland only refer to Catholic and Protestant? If not then tough and Asher’s appeal should be thrown out as this was clearly a political message on the cake.

  • whatif1984true

    How did Ashers know Gareth Lee was Gay?
    If Gareth Lee presents as a straight acting man then how can you charge Ashers with discrimination. The case is then about whether Ashers have the right to refuse to make the cake based on the words to be used to decorate it. Is the court saying it is sensible and accurate to make conclusions about a person’s sexuality based on their purchases which I suggest is a rather dodgy premise in this metrosexual world.

  • patrick23

    the judge believed that the chances were a gay cake would be ordered by a gay person

  • Gingray

    How did the judge know the cake was gay?

  • whatif1984true

    It was a slogan in support of Gay rights. The percentage of the population which would support that slogan (buy the cake) is very considerably larger than the percentage which is gay (thankfully).

  • patrick23

    I’d say a pretty tiny proportion of the community, no matter their view on the issue of gay marriage, would buy the cake. I’ve never bought a cake with any slogan other than “Happy Birthday” on it. The amount of people who would support the sentiment is, I agree, much higher.
    We’re not talking about my viewpoint though, we’re talking about the judge. His view, as I understand it, was that this was indirect discrimination against someone who was gay, and the way one could tell they were gay, was by their desire to buy such a cake.

  • patrick23

    intense questioning

  • Christopher Mc Camley

    Brian, how could any court if this judgment stands, not require muslim bakers to bake cakes with messages they don’t support. It’s not illegal to bake a cake with Muhammud on it. So by this logic it must be illegal to refuse to bake such a cake

  • whatif1984true

    Just following orders……..

  • On the fence!

    “Chances were”?????? Surely any judgement based on “chances were” is always going to be fairly dubious.

    In fact I didn’t think courts had any place for “chances were” whatsoever!

  • patrick23

    I’ve zero legal training. I didn’t quote the judge directly either.
    that said, ” chances are/were” looks to me like it could be interpreted as “on the balance of probability”, which is an understood principle in the legal system, and applicable in (some? all?) discrimination cases