One of the UK’s leading LGBT activists says that he now believes that a bakery should not have been fined for refusing to bake a cake supporting same-sex marriage.
Writing in The Guardian, veteran human rights defender Peter Tatchell addressed the case of Belfast’s Christian-run Ashers Bakery that refused to make a cake for a gay man, Gareth Lee, with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.
With Tatchell’s full support at the time, the owners, Colin and Karen McArthur, were found guilty of contravening Northern Ireland’s Equality Act and Fair Employment and Treatment Order in May last year.
They were fined £500 compensation for discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion.
The couple went on to appeal the ruling this week, leading Tatchell to reveal that he has since changed his mind about the matter and “was wrong to endorse” the court’s decision.
“Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion,” he said.
Tatchell explained that he believes that a distinction can be made between refusing to serve a person for being gay or lesbian and refusing to serve a person over a message or viewpoint.
“[Lee’s] cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for,” argued Tatchell. “There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order.”
He explained further: “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.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the bakers’ appeal was postponed for three months after the court was told that Northern Ireland’s attorney general needs to first investigate concerns over possible conflicts between the country’s equality law and European human rights laws.