I imagine that Daniel and Amy McArthur, owners of Ashers bakery in Northern Ireland, may well want to celebrate their victory in the Supreme Court with a spot of baking today. If so, I suggest this slogan should be written in icing: the equality industry stinks. It has taken Ashers four years and a sequence of court hearings, costing them £200,000 in legal fees, to establish what should have been obvious from the beginning: that no, they didn’t discriminate against a gay couple when they refused to bake a cake bearing the words ‘Support Gay Marriage’ in 2014.
Why on Earth did it take so long, and why did the Belfast County Court and Court of Appeal come up with perverse rulings along the way that Ashers bakery had discriminated against the couple? Yes, we have a law which makes it illegal for businesses to refuse to provide a service on the grounds of a customer’s sexuality. Yet it was clear from the beginning that Ashers would happily have made a cake for the couple – any cake, so long as it did not contain a political message with which they disagreed. Moreover, they would have refused to supply a cake supporting gay marriage to any customer, even one who happened to be straight. The bakery’s objection was the message, not the sexuality of the customer. Whatever your personal views on gay marriage might be, it was surely plain that no discrimination on the basis of the customer’s sexuality had taken place, and therefore the law had not been broken.
In order to argue that the law had been broken you would have to make the assumption that people who support gay marriage are necessarily gay – that the message Ashers was asked to provide was evidence of the customer’s sexuality. That is clearly wrong – and indeed itself belies a discriminatory attitude. There are a great number of straight people who support gay marriage and there are, too, gay people who oppose single-sex marriage.
Why couldn’t judges in the lower courts see all this? What they were effectively doing was inventing a new law, which obliged business-owners to support political campaigns they disagree with – something which I don’t think would go down well with, say, a liberal-minded baker obliged to bake a cake with the slogan ‘Oppose Gay Marriage’, a Republican baker forced to bake muffins celebrating the Battle of the Boyne or a Unionist baker who had to make a doughnut spewing out jam which spelled the message ‘Brits out of Ireland’.
Equality legislation seems to have acquired a life of its own. Parliament passes a law but then activist judges interpret it in such a way as to push its meaning much further than legislators intended. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has pushed back against that process. If we really want a law which forces people to express the political views of others, it will be for Parliament to decide – and I think there might just be some opposition.