In what sense, precisely, has a bakery in County Antrim contravened discrimination law by refusing to ice a cake with a gay marriage slogan on it? The ‘gay cake’ case does have the useful function of identifying the partisan and idiot character of the Equality Commission, in this case, of Northern Ireland, which acted for gay rights activist Gareth Lee, the offended customer, whose slogan was repudiated by Ashers Bakery. The cake itself is silent on the matter right now but it was, I gather, available to be consumed by any customer of Ashers Bakery, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.
And that’s just the point. Ashers, which is run by Presbyterian Christians, has made clear that it wasn’t turning down the custom of Gareth Lee because he was gay; they were perfectly prepared to sell him an iced bun or doughnut. In fact, they would have sold positively any bit of the cake, whole or in part – fruit slab, marzipan, icing – to anyone; it was the polemic that was the problem. It was because they were being required to promulgate, albeit in the transitory medium of royal icing, a message that was at odds with their beliefs.
If Gareth Lee turned baker and was asked by a paying customer to ice a cake with ‘Sodomy is Sin’, would he have obliged? Or, ‘Let’s be A Martyr for Islam’? Or, in historic vein, ‘Taigs Out’? As a company that takes payment from the public Ashers is not at liberty to turn down any customer qua customer but it is simply astonishing that its workers should be obliged to take part, through their icing bags, in campaigning for something morally repugnant to them. You are not a mere machine in the cake decoration business; rather like a potter, you have a hand in the thing you produce; you become a party to it.
As Daniel McArthur, the general manager of Ashers, correctly observes, ‘The ruling suggests that all business owners will have to be willing to promote any cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it.’ And it is to my mind wrong and intolerant and discriminatory – a contradiction in terms – for the Equality Commission to discriminate against committed Presbyterians by persecuting them for holding to their moral principles. You know, I once thought I’d never be right behind the DUP and antipathetic to the nationalist parties in Northern Ireland on faith and morals but the cake has done it.