Following the controversial story that Asher’s Baking Company in Northern Ireland refused to make a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage, David Cameron has told MPs that tolerance towards people of different sexualities is an important part of being British.
The Christian owners of the County Antrim bakery refused to make the cake requested by a gay rights activist, who wanted the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, with the logo of a Belfast-based campaign group called “Queerspace” featured on the cake. But it could face legal action from the Equality Commission for refusing to make the cake, ordered for a civic event in Bangor Castle Town Hall to mark International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.
The firm’s General Manager, Daniel McArthur, points out that marriage in Northern Ireland is “defined as being a union between one man and one woman” and said his company was taking “a stand”. In an online statement, Mr McArthur said;
“The directors and myself looked at it and considered it and thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs. It certainly was at odds with what the Bible teaches, and we rang the customer to let him know that we couldn’t take his order.”
Gregory Campbell, MP for East Londonderry, wants to see a conscience clause in equality legislation. He spoke after PMQs on Wednesday, saying “There have been a number of cases across the United Kingdom where so-called equality legislation has impeded the ability of people to uphold their religious beliefs. This latest case locally has seen a family-owned bakery threatened by legal action because they would not print a political slogan onto a cake. Such a message ran contrary to the company’s Christian values. It is disappointing that the prime minister would not comment on the need for religious freedom to be protected through the introduction of a conscience clause.” He added;
“Tolerance needs to be a two-way street, but this case highlights that currently those who cannot support a particular political campaign may find themselves forced before the courts. That is totally unacceptable.”
Mr McArthur agreed, saying “I would like the outcome of this to be that, any Christians running a business could be allowed to follow their Christian beliefs and principles in the day-to-day running of their business and that they are allowed to make decisions based on that.”
The problem with introducing a conscience clause is that people with different personal beliefs would be allowed to openly discriminate. There could be a slippery slope effect with various groups of people. It could lead to Doctors refusing to perform abortions due to religious beliefs, if the conscience clause allows them to do this. This was seen recently in the America, where in the Pro-Life Hobby Lobby case. Although something as harrowing as abortion is not the same as making a cake for marriage equality.
However, not everyone agrees with the Bakery’s attitude. Although not specifically about this particular case, Conservative pundit Erick Erickson said that;
“Jesus Christ would absolutely bake a cake for a gay person. If any Christian owns a bakery or a florist shop or a photography shop or a diner, then they should no more be allowed to deny service to a gay person than to a black person.”
The UK is becoming an increasingly secular, multi-cultural and diverse society, and companies have to start adhering to legislation that ensures a positive attitude equality. The government is not asking people to change their religious beliefs, but encouraging people with religious beliefs not to impose their beliefs in a way that will negatively affect other people. If the Bakery really did not want to participate in this cause, they could have recommended a company that would.
In terms of this cake being for a civic event, the company is not entirely in the wrong by deciding not to get involved if it is an affront to their personal beliefs. Although, the Bakery could be in the wrong in that supplying a cake to an event does not signify one’s endorsement of its contents. It indicates that they are attributing a value judgement to a cake for an event that they are not personally affiliated with and would not directly affect them. In this case, it seems that the Bakery is acting in a discriminating manner. This would definitely be the case if they refused to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding due to religious beliefs.
The Bible does not directly address the issues of sexual orientation or homosexual marriage. The passages where homosexuality are referred to, and the context in which they were intended, are often misinterpreted. In Sodom and Gomorra, two angels disguised as men came to Sodom, where the men of the city threaten to rape them. The angels blinded the men, and God destroyed the city out of anger for the threat of rape, not judgement of same sex relations. In Leviticus, which labels men lying with men as an “abomination”, also labels charging interest in loans, sex with a menstruating woman and eating pork, rabbit and shellfish as “abominations”.
These are parts of Old Testament, which was fulfilled by Jesus, and the Bible refers to Christ as the end of the law, rendering Old Testament law redundant. In Romans in the New Testament, Paul condemns lustful homosexual behaviour, not love, commitment or faithfulness in homosexual relationships. Description of same sex behaviour in this passage is between adult men and adolescent boys, masters and slaves and in prostitution. Most men doing this were married to women. It condemns infidelity, gluttony and drunkenness and is an entirely different context to loving homosexual relationships. Paul also said men wearing their hair long is unnatural, which many believe is a reference to cultural conventions. Taking this into account, refusing to make a cake for a marriage equality event under the guise of religion seems very backward thinking.
After all, it is the Bakery that may get a negative reputation and lose profits. Perhaps they should have looked to the Golden Rule of Jesus and treat others how they would wish to be treated.