Thursday, 11 October 2018

The gay cake

The global controversy continues over the so-called "gay cake" case, and whether a Belfast bakery was entitled to refuse a cake order that included the message "Support gay marriage" on the icing.

The British Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Ashers bakery was indeed entitled to refuse the order, as this wasn't discrimination against the customer's homosexuality, simply an objection to a particular message that conflicted with their religious beliefs (the owners being devout Christians).

The two lower courts had sided with the customer, Gareth Lee, but the Supreme Court sided with the bakery. Which has reignited the tangled debate over homophobia, what amounts to discrimination, whether a business can refuse an order or not, to what extent you can assert your religious beliefs and so on.

The legal action has already lasted almost 4½ years and cost over £500,000 (partly funded by the Equality Commission). It could last even longer, as Gareth is considering a further appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (through crowdfunding).

Personally I wonder if this interminable legal action is really worth it. Surely the whole dispute could have been resolved at a much earlier stage, with a bit of common sense and flexibility? Someone suggested that after his order was refused, Gareth could simply have shrugged his shoulders, recognised that some people don't agree with gay marriage, and found another bakery that was happy to make his cake.

If one particular bakery throws a wobbly over the message on a cake, is that such a big deal? There must be plenty of bakeries that are more obliging, so does it really matter?

If I ordered a cake with the message "Bollocks to Brexit" and the bakery refused the order, would it be worth  starting a £500,000 legal action to demand my culinary rights? I think not. It would just suggest I had a very large chip on my shoulders.

Pic: Gareth Lee


  1. Nick, you can't equate your anti-Brexit message with a pro-gay marriage one. Your Brexit opinion is not about your soul, your identity, your human right to a love and family that will be legally respected. To be refused a service because of who you are is unjust.

    It's not about the cake. It's about no one being able to deny another person of decency, respect, and equal treatment simply because of who they are (in this case, gay; it could also be race or religion).

    Citing religious belief as an excuse to deny another person of human rights (even if it is only a cake) is despicable, and in a nation where the separation of church and state is codified, it should be unlawful.

  2. I agree with Vivian who articulates my position on this well. Where does this exclusion stop?
    How would you feel if the cake said "Black lives matter" and were refused because some biblical quote or whatever.

    False equivalency on that Brexit bit IMO.


  3. Powdered sugar, milk, and butter, and a plastic bag with the corner cut off, and you can put your own message on the cake. Why is everything constantly made to be a reason for a fight.

  4. I can understand the thought that so much time and money spent in court is excessive, but it just seems like such a slippery slope for a business to be allowed to refuse service based on religious beliefs. When you're in the business of selling wedding cakes, I just think you need to sell wedding cakes to any couple who wants to buy one. It strikes me as incredibly cruel to tell someone you don't believe in their marriage.

    Like some of the other comments have said, where does it stop? Some religions don't celebrate birthdays, should that baker be allowed to refuse to sell you a birthday cake?

  5. As Lady Hale pointed out, the ECHR provides that no one should be forced to undertake something that is against their conscience.
    Further, the case was brought on the grounds of discrimination against a gay person...the bakers would have refused the commission nomatter who ordered it.

    The appeal court, while finding for the customer, expressed doubts about the decision of the equality commission to back this case which has cost at least 250,000 pounds of public money, and I too would have doubts.
    Given the claims by the DUP over over representation of Sinn Fein on the board of the commission I suspect that the decision to back the case may have had political undertones.

  6. Vivian Swift: Firstly, Brexit may not affect my soul but it will certainly affect my identity and my human rights. My human rights and legal protections will be greatly reduced.

    I don't think Gareth was being denied anything except a message on a cake. It's not as if they said, we don't serve homosexuals. I don't see that it's indirect discrimination either.

    Incidentally, when I was supporting the Gay Liberation Front in London in the early 1970s, there was a general opposition to gay marriage on the grounds that it was "aping heterosexuality". There's been a bit of a change there!

  7. It simply is an opinion the baker did not hold and so did not have to express.

  8. www: Well, it's a very small exclusion. In general (as far as I know), gays have no problem in Belfast shops. Many shops have Pride flags and messages in their windows during Pride Week.

    I guess "black lives matter" would be the equivalent of "gay lives matter" and refusing either of those messages would be direct discrimination against the black or gay customer.

  9. Anonymous: If you're saying one simple answer is to bake your own cake, fair enough. But yes, why is everything constantly a reason for a fight? A bit of basic common sense would have wrapped this up in five minutes.

  10. Danielle: It's no problem for a bakery to sell wedding or birthday cakes. The issue here is not the cake itself but the message the customer wants on it. Suppose the intended message was "I love Hitler" or "Women are stupid"? Shouldn't a bakery be able to refuse it?

  11. Helen: I'll take your word for it that "the ECHR provides that no one should be forced to undertake something that is against their conscience." I would have thought refusing a message that conflicts with your religious beliefs comes into that category. And as you say, presumably the bakery would have the same response to a straight customer wanting the same message.

  12. Joanne: It WAS an opinion the bakery held as the owners are fervent Christians. Whether they should have expressed it by refusing the order is the big issue. There are umpteen different opinions, as these comments have made clear!

  13. I still have the same opinion as last time: small business owners should be allowed to refuse to make or sell a product that goes against their personal beliefs. Bakeries are not monopolies, so I'm certain he could have found another one willing to put any message he wanted on a cake. I think it's actually disturbing that this man sought out a Christian bakery because he obviously had an axe to grind, if he's willing to put forth this much time, effort and money in order to destroy somene's business.

  14. Bijoux: Now that's the voice of common sense. You're right, just about any other bakery would supply the cake he wanted with no problem. So why was he so obsessed with getting this particular bakery to bow to his wishes? It could be, as you say, that he has something against Christians.

  15. I dont have an opinion on the cake, it makes my brain hurt. I do appreciate that a case like this is quite important in the precedent it sets and the representation of principles.

    In the birth world there are often doulas who don't want a given client and rather than be offensive they would usually say they are fully booked or that they are not a "good fit". I wonder why the cake shop couldn't just say something like that rather than make an issue of it.

  16. I'm with Kylie - the whole issue is also making my head hurt, and Bijoux raises a good point - there are bakers that would have been happy to fulfil his order, I reckon.
    Interesting. It reminds me of the case where the B&B turned a gay couple away HERE, and in this case the business lost. We don't know exactly what was said in court.

  17. Kylie: It makes my brain hurt too, it's a very complex issue. I agree, the bakery could just have found some plausible excuse for not making the cake.

    Jean: I'm glad to hear that. I feel somewhat outnumbered!

    Scarlet: I think the case of Mr and Mrs Bull was different, in that they specifically turned the gay couple away because they were gay (and would be having sex outside marriage). Presumably they wouldn't have turned away a straight couple (even though they might not be married).

  18. oh good grief. "Beam me up Scottie!"
    I once asked my dad if he had a motto.
    he said "well. this one is pretty close to how I believe...
    Live and Let Live and try to do no harm."
    I was about 15 and I remember being rather disappointed. I think I was hoping for something deeper and more profound.
    the old I get (much older than he ever got since he was to die a couple of years later) the more I think there is great truth in what he said. it would solve a lot of angst and guilt and anger if people would just live and let live and try to do no harm.
    why does everybody have to think the same thing? and who gives a crap what goes on a cake? well. unless it devolves into this kind of fight. and that should make the lawyers smile. they're the ones reaping the benefit!

  19. Tammy: Live and let live indeed. A bit of common sense would have resolved the whole thing in five minutes. But both sides decided to make a mountain out of a molehill and pursue it to the bitter end. As you say, who gives a crap what goes on a cake? And yes, the lawyers are doing very nicely thank you.

  20. I try to imagine how I'd feel if I were a baker and someone asked me to decorate with a message I found morally repugnant. A white supremacy message, say, or something endorsing pornography. I wouldn't do it. It's a private establishment and they weren't refusing to make a cake for the guy, just refusing to make on decorated in a way that offended their religious/moral beliefs. What if another person walked into a bakery owned by a day couple and asked for a cake that said, "Abolish gay marriage." Wouldn't they have a right to refuse to do that? So in my opinion, if the baker refused to make him a cake at al, that might be grounds for a suit. But the business owner should be allowed to have guidelines about how they decorate a cake.

  21. Agent: Those are good examples of messages that political radicals (and maybe Gareth Lee himself?) wouldn't want to go along with. Indeed, if the Gareth Lee Bakery was asked to provide a cake saying "Abolish gay marriage", I think he would very quickly find a way of refusing the order. As you say, shops should surely have the right to decide if an order is acceptable to them or not.

  22. I don't see how a baker should be forced to write words or symbols (swastika) on a cake if they didn’t want to do so for any reason. That’s not the same as if the bakery refused to sell him a cake but sold the same cake to all others because they were gay which could be considered differently.

  23. Joared: That's my view too. A bakery should be able to refuse a message they can't stomach. Yes, to refuse to sell a cake to a particular group of people is a different matter entirely.

  24. I think he should have shrugged his shoulders and moved on. A business has a right to select its clients and act on behalf of their own beliefs.

  25. Polly: My feeling entirely. Why make such an expensive song-and-dance about it? There are plenty of bakeries who would be happy to make the cake he wanted.