You may recall the case of the Colorado baker who was found to have illegally discriminated when he refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. (Warning: link is to a Fox News commentary for a reason)
Now a baking company in Northern Ireland has been advised by the Equality Commission that it illegally discriminated when refusing another cake order because of their "Christian values". The cake was not even a wedding confection! It was ordered for a civic event in Bangor Castle Town Hall, County Down, to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and hosted by the then Mayor of North Down. The graphic featured the words "Support Gay Marriage", a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the logo of Queerspace, a local organization. The order was taken and paid for at one branch of the Asher's Bakery whose staff referred it to the company head office. The Belfast Telegraph reports:
Daniel McArthur (24), general manager at Asher's Baking Company, the Newtownabbey company which has been running since 1992 and employs 62 people, said the firm had been founded by Christians, and the current directors are Christians.Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has not legislated to allow same-sex marriage (term used because it is in the titles of the Acts passed at Westminster and Holyrood) as the responsibility now forms part of its Assembly's devolved powers. The Act creating Civil Partnerships was passed before devolution and is still in force. Before the new Acts, civil partnership and the signing ceremonies were invariably referred to as "marriage" and "weddings" although there were legal differences between the two institutions.
“That means that we run our business according to Christian values and beliefs, according to what the Bible teaches. It means for example that we don’t open on Sundays, that we trade openly and honestly with people,” he said.
Mr McArthur said the company’s name was Biblical - as Asher was one of the 12 tribes of Israel.
“It was a tribe that had gifted bakers,” he said.
Apart from some "Directly Elected Mayors" (like Boris Johnson in London), the roles in most UK local authorities are ceremonial and the term is usually a year (like the Lord Mayor of [the City of] London, the "square mile"). Councillor Andrew Muir, who hosted the event, was the first openly gay Mayor in Northern Ireland. He is a member of the Alliance Party, a sister party of the British Liberal Democrats through the Liberal International (Student members of the British Lib Dems studying in Northern Ireland are considered members of Alliance Youth). Parties in Northern Ireland are separate from those for the rest of the UK although there used to be a formal arrangement with the old Unionist Party and the Conservatives as a joint group at Westminster.
Andrew Muir told the press:
"I was pleased that another bakery in Bangor was able to step in and produce this cake for the event I hosted as Mayor of North Down.The Equality Commission asked Asher's for a response and proposal for recompense for their discrimination within 7 days. Their response appears to have been to contact one of the extremist Christian organizations that have sprung up in the UK along the lines of those in the USA. You will be familiar with their arguments. From Todd Starnes in the Fox commentary:
"We were able to ensure that this event went ahead despite the actions of Asher's Bakery and enjoyed a great afternoon celebrating the vibrant diversity Northern Ireland enjoys."
The plight of Jack Phillips and his family is something I write about in my new book, “God Less America.” His story of religious persecution is one of many that I document.Asher's Bakery have a slick, if drearily presented by the manager, video produced for them by "The Christian Institute" in which he compares the message on the cake to previous declined orders for pornographic images on cakes. (On the Belfast Telegraph page linked above). Sectarian politicians are echoing the arguments used in the USA but wrapping them in a veneer of reasonableness.
Nicolle Martin, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, called the ruling Orwellian and said they are considering an appeal.
“They are turning people of faith into religious refugees,” Martin told me. “Is this the society that we want to live in – where people of faith are driven out of business?”
But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said the Equality Commission had overstepped the mark and the complaint highlighted the need for a "conscience clause" to protect Christians and others who have deeply held beliefs.http://www.bbc.co.uk/...
DUP MP Nigel Dodds said: "The case re-opens the debate about how exactly religious belief is respected within the United Kingdom and the need for someone's conscience to be protected whilst ensuring that discrimination does not occur."
This theme of "persecuted Christians" is a running theme for the religious Right and one might have suspicions that two "Christian" bakeries on either side of the Atlantic invoked the same "religious freedom" reason for refusing to make a cake in a deliberate manner.
Frankly, Asher's case done not stand a snowball's hope in one of their ovens, let alone Hell but the mission of the Christian Institute is to be martyrs in the cause. They have already lost in a similar case of a bed and breakfast owners' refusal to allow a gay couple a double bedded room. They supported the couple called Bull up to the Supreme Court and lost:
Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said: "Sexual orientation is a core component of a person's identity which requires fulfilment through relationships with others of the same orientation."(Note the theme "this is Political Correctness gone mad" is a constant refrain from the conservative right in the UK as a response to any progress.)
Mike Judge, from the Christian Institute, said after the hearing: "What this case shows is that the powers of political correctness have reached all the way to the top of the judicial tree, so much so that even the Supreme Court dare not say anything against gay rights."
The commentary by the BBC's Religious Affairs correspondent on that case pointed out that was then the latest in a run of defeats:
Defeat in court has been compounded in some cases by the remarks of senior judges, making clear that their job is no longer to enforce morality, and that religious beliefs will not be given more weight than secular values.Interesting comparison:
UK: Established church, Supreme Court rules against Bulls.
USA: "No established church" in Constitution, Supreme Court rules for Hobby Lobby.