It’s been a weird week in Ireland, north and south. Between standoffs involving country singers (in the south) and standoffs involving gay wedding cakes (in the north) the entire island has finally been united: in self-parody.
It seems the unlikely pairing (gays and Garth Brooks) has actually had the power to do what no one else has been able to since the Flight of the Earls – create an all-Ireland consensus – that we’ve completely lost the plot.
First came the shocking news that a so-called Christian bakery in Northern Ireland had refused to bake a cake in support of gay marriage featuring the beloved Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie.
The news created a lot of questions. What on earth, wondered many, is a ‘Christian bakery?’ Could the owners of Ashers Bakery in Newtownabbey be under the impressions that they’re not a business but a church?
It certainly sounded that way when Daniel McArthur, the bakery's general manager, told the Belfast Telegraph on Monday that producing a cake in support of marriage equality would go against the Christian values of his company.
‘We thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs. It certainly was in contradiction of what the Bible teaches,’ McArthur told the press.
But the Bible is silent on the issue of Bert and Ernie. The muppet may have been closer to McArthur’s home.
‘I feel if we don’t take a stand with this case, then how can we stand up against it further down the line?’ McArthur added.
I see, it’s a free speech question is it? Well in order for this to be an infringement of the bakery’s freedom of speech, it has to be their own speech. It isn't their own speech. It's their customer's speech.
And just when did conservatives stop supporting the free market? To quote McArthur back at himself – “further down the line” will the bakery refuse to serve Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, or Jews?
Reading about this made me nostalgic for the time when ostentatiously religious people used to help the poor instead of initiate lawsuits.
Now, when conservatives discriminate or criticize others it’s called religious liberty. If you return the favor its called persecution. See how that works?
In the Republic no one got too worked up about muppet marriages. That’s because they’re already blase about offensive cakes. They’ve had more time to get used to them.
Recall that last year Larry Brennan, 79, from County Kilkenny, startled the whole of Ireland (and much of the planet) when he appeared in a photograph in the Kilkenny People newspaper alongside his daughter Maria cutting a decorative cake with a picture of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler on the top.
In a playful flourish the bakers added a little red party hat to the Fuhrer's head, possibly to distract party goers from the undeniable fact that Hitler is the most universally loathed figure in human history.
On the cake Hitler was seen giving his famous Sieg Heil Nazi salute and wearing a swastika. 'Happy Birthday Dad,' it read.
No one launched a lawsuit; no one claimed their Christian beliefs were being assaulted; no one suggested the bakery was endorsing Nazism or insulting Jews.
Plenty of locals scoffed, some guffawed, and others loudly slapped their foreheads. But most people understood it for what it was – the sincere if misdirected fascination of an admittedly eccentric but probably harmless amateur military history enthusiast.
Bert and Ernie should have raised a similar smile at the baker's shop. The impulse to use the two puppet figures is such a nudge-nudge one to begin with. They’re not even people, they’re felt and nylon. It’s pathetic to make a stand over synthetic fabric sock puppets (especially if you wear synthetics yourself, in clear violation of Biblical beliefs).
Meanwhile in Dublin (and everywhere else on the island) people were electrified by the news that Garth Brooks, the cowboy-hatted crooner, was pulling out of his five day concert series because the locals living near the stadium venue can’t take the noise.
Like the so-called Christian bakers, Brooks is playing winner-takes-all and clearly hoping the other side will blink first. But politics used to be about picking the fights you had a hope of winning.
I personally wouldn’t bet against gays or northsiders.