Voices

Gay people in Northern Ireland need marriage equality more than cakes

Let Ashers bake what it wants: it merely shows the owners for who they are
(Reuters)

The owners of Ashers bakery in Belfast have won their appeal at the Supreme Court this morning, after a “gay cake” row which has run on for years.

The court ruled that when the business refused to bake a cake bearing a slogan in support of same-sex marriage, it did not discriminate against the customer on the grounds of their sexual orientation – their issue was simply with the message being promoted.

We could argue until we’re blue in the teeth about the true beliefs or motivations of this business, but ultimately, the courts have given it the benefit of the doubt that it would have served a gay man any other cake.

As a gay man from Northern Ireland, of course I feel disappointed by this story. It doesn’t feel nice to know there are people out there who don’t believe in your right to be equal. But fighting Ashers is not going to make things better. In the grand scheme of things, I fear this story is simply a distraction in the culture wars which detract from practical political progress.

When I got married this summer, I did it in the Republic of Ireland, because same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Northern Ireland. But Ashers isn’t to blame for this – the DUP is.

Last week, when Owen Jones put it to party leader Arlene Foster that her opposition to same-sex marriage was out of step with a majority of people in Northern Ireland, she responded with a wry smile: “That could well be the case.”

Foster and Ashers may be cut from the same cloth, but only one of them is blocking me from my equal rights. Let’s not lose sight of that

It very well is the case. The last poll showed 76 per cent of people wanted same-sex marriage made legal.

Foster and Ashers are both out of step with the political will of the people, but one can be far more easily ignored than the other. They may be cut from the same cloth, but only one of them is blocking me from my equal rights. Let’s not lose sight of that.

I am aware that changing society will ultimately change politics, but forcing businesses to support LGBT+ causes is not a hearts-and-minds winner. As we have seen, it merely hardens them against us, and turns them into martyrs for what they perceive as an inverted persecution.

Besides, who wants to give their hard-earned money to people who don’t believe we have the right to equal marriage?

Let Ashers bake whatever kind of cakes it wants, for it merely shows the owners up as the kind of people they really are. And while “Christian” may be their preferred adjective, their compassion for others, to my mind, is found shamefully wanting.

If you feel angry about this ruling today, remember that if Ashers had lost, same-sex marriage would still be illegal in Northern Ireland, and that is a battle I would rather see won. Let’s refocus our efforts on that.

PS I had my wedding cake made in Northern Ireland by a wonderful company who had no problems with me and my husband at all. In fact, they were delighted for us. It was a rainbow cake and it was delicious. I will happily pass on their details for anyone who needs them.