Can you argue that a person’s sexuality is not the issue whilst you discriminate against them based on its expression?
You can not, as Ashers bakery discovered for the second time in court today.
The judge has ruled that the word ‘gay’ on the requested cake caused the refusal, which is in breach of the equality law. The equality law dictates that all people be treated equally under it.
The court did not accept the claim that to provide the cake would require Ashers to endorse, promote or support gay marriage which is contrary to their religious beliefs.
This claim was easy to refute. Many businesses supply t-shirts and banners with liberal and conservative political messaging, for example. No one believes they constitute the endorsement of the parent company.
Although Ashers believes that gay marriage is sinful, they are in a business and those services should be available to all paying customers, however constituted, the court has found. The law requires them to do just that.
In the original ruling against the bakery the judge ruled: “Ashers are not a religious organization; they are a bakery conducting a business for profit -and notwithstanding their religious beliefs, there are no exceptions under the 2006 Regulations which apply to the case and so the Legislature, after consultation and consideration, has determined what the law should be.”
The ruling continued: “It is wrong that in fulfilling the order the Defendants would be promoting and supporting a change in the law of Northern Ireland so as to enable same sex marriage in that they were doing no more than obeying the law and providing the Plaintiff with a service.”
“If the Plaintiff was a gay man who ran a bakery business and the Defendants as Christians wanted him to bake a cake with the words ‘support heterosexual marriage’ the Plaintiff would be required to do so as, otherwise he would, according to the law be discriminating against the Defendants. This is not a law which is for one belief only but is equal to and for all.”
Ashers has lamented today's ruling, but critics reply that equality doesn't mean Christians don't have rights. It simply means their rights are not superior.
Ashers is a bakery, not a religious belief system. It exists to make cakes, not pass moral judgements on its customers.