Ashers #Everyone Wins
It’s been a long time coming, but finally we have the icing on the cake. A decision from the Supreme Court that reminds us of the importance of freedom of conscience, belief and expression for everyone. Ashers took issue with the message on the cake, not the customer and the Supreme Court has supported their freedom to do so.
It turns out there is no such thing as a ‘gay cake’. Its disappointing that this case has been pitched as Christians versus the LGBT community. This ruling affirms that this was never the case. The McArthur family have served Mr Lee in the past and made clear he will always be welcome in future.
The Supreme Court agreed that it is an affront to human dignity to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or any of the other protected personal characteristics. But Lady Hale said, “…that is not what happened in this case and it does the project of equal treatment no favours to seek to extend it beyond its proper scope.” This is perhaps the key line in the judgment. There was not discrimination in this case, and when we over-reach we undermine our case.
The McArthur family will take great comfort from this ruling. The Supreme Court accepted that they had served Mr Lee and other gay people before and therefore had not discriminated on the basis of Mr Lee’s sexual orientation. It is a great result for the family after four years of court battles.
The court found there was no discrimination based on religious belief. The key would have been Mr Lee’s religion and that has never been discussed in this case. The religious beliefs of the McArthurs was part of their defence and should not have been used against them.
Finally, the court indicated there was a stronger case on the grounds of political opinion. But ultimately they concluded that would have led to compelled speech that could not have been justified.
So all three grounds that Ashers were originally found to have discriminated on have been unanimously dismissed by the highest court in the land. Ashers have won the legal battle, but everyone will share in the benefits.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was initially critical of Ashers, but is now a strong supporter of the free speech arguments in this case. He, Stephen Fry and many others have welcomed the Supreme Court decision, aware of the wider implications. It is their support that reminds me that this is a win for everyone.
We all now have a responsibility to speak well and wisely about this case. Some have suggested that the law is now less clear and that more discrimination may occur. This is deeply unhelpful. If the Equality Commission believe the Supreme Court have made the law unclear, then it is important that they provide clarity. The Commission also need to review how they handle these types of cases, making space for dialogue before issuing proceedings.
The mark of a free and democratic society is that competing views are discussed and debated. We have seen an increase in ‘no-platforming’ and safe spaces. All of these undermine a free and fair society. The Supreme Court have rightly ruled that it would be wrong to compel the McArthurs to use their creative talents to promote a political cause which is against their deeply held views.