Thursday, 26 March 2015

Toxic cake

The utterly absurd row over a gay-themed cake shows no signs of abating. The Northern Ireland bakery that refused to make the cake has been taken to court by the Equality Commission while Christian groups are weighing in with support for the bakery.

It all started in November last year when Ashers bakery rejected an order for a cake with the message "Support Gay Marriage" and the name of a gay organisation, Queerspace.

The bakery said their deeply-held Christian beliefs made it impossible to provide the cake, so the customer got it made by another bakery.

Ashers Bakery is now defending itself in court against the Equality Commission's charge of unlawful discrimination.

It's ridiculous that a disagreement over a cake should have escalated into a full court hearing with both sides earmarking thousands of pounds for the legal costs. The Equality Commission has already spent £8,500 on the case while Christian groups have pledged large sums in support of the bakery.

Surely the initial disagreement could have been settled in a few minutes in some simpler way?

The bakery could have taken the attitude that the message on the cake was the customer's concern and nothing to do with the bakery or its religious convictions. They could have easily baked the cake and ignored the message, just as they ignore a thousand other "irreligious" messages they come across.

Customer Gareth Lee could have shrugged off the ludicrous objections, got the cake made somewhere else (as he did) and thought nothing more of it. He could have simply dismissed the bakery staff as intolerant diehards incapable of treating other people as human beings rather than religious hate-figures.

But Mr Lee agreed to front an Equality Commission court case which turned the whole thing into a global cause célèbre in which Christians and gays have been hurling abuse at each other for months.

We now await the court's verdict. Even if Judge Isobel Brownlie decides in Mr Lee's favour, it will be a rather hollow victory, as the bakery won't be keen to change its practices. It may simply look for ways of getting round the law.

And the case has led to the infamous "conscience clause", a proposed law about to be debated at Stormont, which would allow Christian businesses to turn away gay customers whenever they felt like it.

This one will run and run.

Pic: the sinful cake

PS: The case has now finished, but the Judge will give her decision later. "It is not a straightforward area of the law. Obviously this is a case in which I propose to reserve my judgment."

28 comments:

John Gray said...

As someone who has just had his mega skice of the cake..........all i can say is just how i,portant it is to bemade law.......
I couldnt be happier
And happy is good right?

Nick said...

John: Of course gay marriage should be permitted everywhere. Why are some people so hostile to it? What harm is it doing them? Whatever happened to "love thy neighbour as thyself"?

Secret Agent Woman said...

This is such a complicated issue. For the record, I am 100% in favor of legalizing gay marriage, as I'm in favor of civil rights regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race and religion. And yet... Although of you can't allow businesses to turn away gay customers (or black customers or women or whatever), is that the same thing as allowing a business some discretion over the products they make? I don't know that there is a clear-cut answer to that. My own ethical belief systems wouldn't allow me to make a cake that depicted a woman being beaten, for instance. If I were a baker, should I be forced to make a cake depicting a BDSM lifestyle? How do we figure out how to provide people with full rights without infringing on others' rights? I think it's a little too easy to say there is a definitive answer either way. Just thinking aloud here, really.

Bijoux said...

I'm along the lines of Agent in that I believe a small business owner should have some say in the product that they make or the products that they provide.

As long as there are choices available to take your business elsewhere, why does it always have to turn into a lawsuit? And honestly, why would anyone WANT to give their money to a business that doesn't support their beliefs or lifestyle or that you have fundamental disagreements with?

Grannymar said...

Northern Ireland at its best!

A movie in the making, never mind a cake!

Nick said...

Agent: I tend to agree with you that there are certain products or messages I wouldn't want to deal with, even if I were running a commercial business. Though I think there's a difference between objecting to a "gay marriage" message, which does no harm to anyone, and objecting to (say) a depiction of male violence, which a lot of women would find threatening. And if there's a company that's prepared to do the job, does it really matter that another company wasn't?

Nick said...

Bijoux: I think I agree that if you can take your business elsewhere, why should the refusal be such a big deal? And I also agree that insisting on doing business with a company clearly hostile to your particular beliefs is rather perverse.

Nick said...

Grannymar: Not just Northern Ireland, I'm sure. I bet there are bakers in other countries, with similar religious convictions, that would take the same attitude.

Rummuser said...

There is a major trade issue involved here too. A business used to be allowed the privilege of serving or not serving a customer and it was quite normal during colonial times and a little later in India to see boards in establishments that read "Rights of Admission Reserved." This right was scrapped in practice but the legal situation in India is that a business entity can refuse to serve a customer except when it is to establish monopoly and restrictive trade practices. I think that looked at it from this point of view, the rights of the bakery should also be taken into account. What is the law on this front?

Helen Devries said...

I'm with the bakery.

Suppose I own it and I don't - for whatever reason - agree with the idea of same sex marriage.
It is now legal....I accept that, but I don't approve.

I cannot see why I should be obliged to offend my own sense of what is proper when the client can go to any number of other bakeries who will accept his order.

Why make such a song and dance about it...he can go away thinking what a dinosaur I am, go elsewhere, have his cake and even eat it.

I preserve my right to choose whom I serve with what.

And before the P.C. brigade get on their hind legs I can remember seeing the notices in lodging house windows 'No Blacks, no dogs, no Irish' when I was young and maintain that there is a distinction to be made between the necessities of life - where access must be open - as in housing and employment and the accessories of life - ordering a cake.

I was working in the field of equality in the workplace when the legislation on sex and race discrimination came in...it was sorely needed and it is sad to see the spirit of that legislation abused because someone wants to kick up a fuss about something trivial.

CheerfulMonk said...

I don't think they should have sued. They could have gone to someone else or else had the baker make the cake and then decorated it to suit themselves. I am for gay marriage, but think this is too much government intrusion.

Nick said...

Ramana: The law is complex. I'm trying to follow it myself as the case goes on. I think there are still businesses here that can refuse the right of admission, like clubs that will turn away drunks or people not properly dressed.

Nick said...

Helen: I think you would be on dangerous ground if you could turn away anything that didn't seem "proper", as that's such a subjective word. And if you allowed religious believers to reject anyone who contravened their religious beliefs, where would it end?

Nick said...

Jean: The customer did indeed go to another bakery, but is it right that they were refused simply because the baker didn't like the message on the cake? It's not as if the customer was advocating mass murder or sexual assault.

susie said...

There is a bakery in town that doesn't like bratty kids. Doesn't want them around, and put up a sign saying so. The smiley cookies are at bratty kid eye level. People are pissed off about this.

I thought Ernie and Bert were roommates.

Nick said...

Susie: Well, that's another example of a business that prohibits a certain type of customer. And it's common for pubs to prohibit people in mucky outdoor clothes and shoes. Which seems reasonable to me.

Sesame Workshop strongly denies that Bert and Ernie are gay lovers. They merely share a bedroom.

Helen Devries said...

Nick, I appreciate your point....take all things to their conclusions and you end up with problems.
But should a halal butcher be obliged to serve customers with pork sausages...

Nick said...

Helen: Halal butchers are another good example of commercial restrictions.

But there's a big problem when religious believers claim the right to override national laws and apply laws or principles of their own. If every religion did that, it would be anarchy.

Wisewebwoman said...

The great distractions of our age. What an effin storm in a teacup indeed.

Wouldn't surprise me at all if this wasn't a setup by the cake buyer (with encouragement from the rights people.)

And what other cakes have been made by them, depicting women's body parts for instance?

Just surmising what lines do they draw?

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: I don't think it was a set-up. The customer had used the bakery many times before without complaint, and he was assuming this purchase would be straightforward. I'll bet they've sold other cakes with rather more controversial motifs or messages....

Secret Agent Woman said...

Again, though, Nick, there is a distinction in refusing someone service and refusing to make a particular product. Some people have a deeply held religious belief that gay marriage is a sin. I think they're idiots, but that's beside the point. If he turned away customers wanting a generic cake because they were gay, that would be discrimination. But its seems unreasonable to require by law that someone make a product they find personally repugnant. You (or I) don't get to decide which ideas are acceptable to an individual.

Nick said...

Agent: I agree with your distinction. And yes, I think there's a difference between turning away a whole category of people and rejecting a particular item. But if the bakery rejects a cake referring to gay marriage, yet presumably would be happy with one that refers only to marriage, then surely the objection is to gayness as such?

Secret Agent Woman said...

Of course, and that's the point. The baker presumably objects to gay marriage on religious or moral grounds. And isn't that his right? For moral reasons (because I believe it is wrong to objectify women), I would not be willing to bake a cake that advertised a strip club. That's different than refusing to sell regular cakes to all the neanderthals who frequent them. And I shouldn't be forced to make and sell that cake just because I AM wiling to make cakes that advertise, say, for a nightclub. Or for a gay bar, for that matter. I get to decide for myself what product I'm willing to make based on my own ethical belief system and it would be wrong for anyone else to step in and say they get to decide my belief system for me. It doesn't matter what the product represents to you, it matters only that I not refuse to serve a particular person based on something like sexual orientation. Beyond that, it should be my call.

Liz Hinds said...

Another subject that I dither over but I think I agree with Agent.

The incident does seem to have been hijacked to use as a weapon in the ongoing battle between Christians and gays. (I should stress not all Christians.)

Shouldn't there be respect for each person's beliefs?

Nick said...

Agent: I'm trying to think of a personal example here. Suppose you asked a bakery to make you a cake saying "Support psychotherapy" and the bakery refused, saying they thought psychotherapy was a lot of un-Godly nonsense, would you be happy to try another bakery or would you protest at their attitude?

Nick said...

Liz: I don't know about being used as a weapon, but certainly it's providing a fascinating test case on religious belief versus sexual orientation. Very much untrodden territory and I don't envy the Judge's task in making a definitive ruling.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I'd be thankful for the heads up about their attitude and I'd go to another bakery. If they truly felt psychotherapy was immoral, they'd have the right not to have to make a cake supporting it.

Nick said...

Agent: Okay, that's a consistent approach.