I’m LGBT, and I understand Asher’s Bakery and their right to free speech

Talk of the ‘Gay Cake’ went worldwide

So, the verdict that, arguably, most people were already anticipating has just come in; Asher’s Bakery is guilty of discrimination. But in all honesty, are they really? I mean, sure, on the surface, it appears that they’re guilty, but let’s actually take a look at what happened.

Back in May 2014, Gareth Lee, a volunteer member of Bangor-based LGBT advocacy group Queerspace, had strolled into Asher’s Bakery in Belfast, and ordered a cake. On the cake, he had requested the image of Sesame Street characters Bert & Ernie, the logo of Queerspace and the slogan, “Support Gay Marriage”. He had ordered the cake for a private function celebrating International Day against Homophobia.

But a short while later, Karen McArthur, co-owner of Asher’s, had called him to tell him that the order wasn’t going to be processed.

From that point on, all hell broke loose. From PM’s Questions to talk shows in the US and Australia, everyone was talking about the ‘Gay Cake’ scandal, and in an instant, Daniel and Karen McArthur had been branded as discriminatory and bigoted, and suddenly thrusted into a court case by the Northern Irish Equality Commission. They were found guilty, tried to have it overturned, but the ruling was sustained, and now here we are.

Here we are in a society in which we have to produce products for people that may, sometimes, go against our own personal beliefs. A society in which, if we disagree, we are instantly branded as a bigot. I mean, I’m LGBT myself, and I find their refusal to produce the cake as, yes, offensive. But I don’t find it illegal at all, and in a way, I can actually understand just where they’re coming from.

Because at the end of the day, they’re not discriminating against Gareth because he was LGBT, as they said: “We had served Mr Lee before and we would be happy to serve him again. We have always said it was not about the customer, it was about the message.” They were simply upholding their beliefs, and even though I disagree with those beliefs as an LGBT person myself, we have to respect that. We as a society, should not strong arm anyone to do anything that they believe to be wrong. 

For example, say I ran my own bakery, and a young christian couple had come in and ordered a cake that said “Uphold the Sanctity of Marriage”. In all honesty, I would flat out refuse, and no one would bat an eyelid, because I’m not refusing them based on the fact that I don’t believe in Christianity, but on the basis that I wouldn’t feel comfortable promoting a message that went against my own beliefs as an LGBT person. That would be fine, mind you, but because Asher’s held Christian beliefs, it wasn’t?

In all honesty, the cake row is a can of worms that ‘Are Wee Country’ doesn’t exactly need right now, with EU negotiations, a failing economy, et al. But at the end of the day, Asher’s had every right to refuse an order, because how can we pride ourselves as a free society, if we can’t afford the basic right of Freedom of Speech to those we disagree with?

More
Queen's University Belfast