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…

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London