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HomeNewsRev Jules Gomes: Gay cake ruling puts freedom in its coffin

Rev Jules Gomes: Gay cake ruling puts freedom in its coffin


Gay rights activists can now have their cake and eat it as well. In a free country boasting a free market, they are now free to use the full force of the judiciary to deprive bakers of their freedom of expression and their freedom to decide who they do business with and what cake they choose to bake. Freedom is on the scaffold. Totalitarianism is on the throne—nay, even worse, seated on the bench wearing a wig, gown and ideological blinkers that blind her to justice.

On Monday, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that Ashers Baking Company had discriminated against Gareth Lee on the grounds of sexual orientation by refusing to bake a cake supporting same-sex marriage. Mr Lee had asked the family-run firm to bake a cake iced with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage.”

A business is not a charity. A business is not subsidised by the taxpayer. A business deal is a free transaction between two freely consenting parties. The entrepreneur or trader or businessman has the freedom and the right to choose. Choice is, by definition, discriminatory. By making certain choices over and above other choices, traders discriminate against the choices they have not made. They have the right to discriminate. We call this capitalism. We call it the free market.

The State transgresses its limits once it imposes choices on the trader or even worse coerces the trader to make choices on the basis of an ideological agenda. Customers, on the other hand, are free to choose on the basis of worldview and beliefs. However, at the end of the day, the success or failure of a business will be determined by the market and not by the trader’s worldview or beliefs.

A business thrives or fails on the goodwill of its customers. If you disagree with the policy of a certain business, stop patronising it with your custom. If you disagree strongly and consider its policy discriminatory, create consumer awareness so that more customers will stop doing business with it. Boycott the business. The business will fail. But don’t dictate to me how I should run my business and don’t coerce me into creating the products you demand.

I am free to choose how I run my business. As a Jewish butcher, I am free to stock exclusively kosher meat. As a Muslim butcher, I am free to refuse to stock pork. As a Seventh Day Adventist, I am free to shut my shop on the Sabbath.

I am free to choose my clients. As a lawyer, I am free to reject a tobacco company that wants me to defend them on the basis of my belief that cigarette smoking is bad for health. As a music teacher, I am free to discriminate against a student I believe is tone deaf and refuse to teach that student. As a writer, I am free to reject an offer to write for a magazine whose views contradict my own deeply held religious or political beliefs. As a Jewish or Christian printer, I am free not to publish copies of Mein Kampf or Playboy. As a Muslim printer, I am free not to publish leaflets depicting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The same principle applies to consumers. As a consumer, I am free to refuse to purchase Chinese toys or Saudi oil because I disagree with the policies of the respective countries on human rights. Friends of mine choose to go on holiday to Israel rather than Egypt and fly El Al rather than Gulf Air because they prefer to spend money in the Jewish state rather than in Muslim countries. Other friends do exactly the opposite to demonstrate their solidarity with the Palestinians. If consumers have the right to choose businesses, why should businesses not have the right to choose consumers?

Appeal court judges said that, under law, the bakers were not allowed to provide a service only to people who agreed with their religious beliefs. Why not? If I am a Mormon why can’t I run a catering service that will cater only to Mormons? A private business is not an essential service. It is not the fire brigade. A private company is not a public service. It is not the railway. A bakery is neither an essential service nor a public one.

What if Ashers Bakery had told Mr Lee that they would not be able to bake his cake as they were fully booked or understaffed? Mr Lee was free to go to another baker and have his cake made at another bakery. To prevent him from so doing would have constituted discrimination against him as a gay man. But Mr Lee was hell-bent on punishing the Christian bakers and his motive was revenge against Christians who hold to the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. Why did the judges fail to consider motive in this case? What about the right of the bakers not to be discriminated against because of their beliefs?

Most importantly, Ashers Bakery did not refuse to bake a cake for Mr Lee ‘on grounds of sexual orientation.’ They refused to bake a cake on the grounds that they were required to use their freedom of expression to express a message that explicitly contradicted their beliefs. The problem was not the gay customer, nor the cake, but the icing on the cake carrying a provocative message “Support Gay Marriage.” The Ashers do not support gay marriage and hence have the right to refuse to express this belief through their business.

The Christian bakers were not discriminating against Mr Lee. They were discriminating against an idea and an ideology. They have every right to do so. The judges have failed to uphold the difference between discriminating against ideas and discriminating against people.

If there is one thing we learn from the Great British Bake Off, it is that baking a cake is an expression of skill and talent. It is your creation. It is an artistic expression. It is a form of non-verbal communication—speech without words. You are saying something through something you are creating. The fact that the icing on the cake contains a specific message means that it is unique and not mass-produced. To be cruelly compelled to create something and express a message that contradicts your most fundamental beliefs is coercion of the most totalitarian kind.

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‘Rebel Priest’ Rev Jules Gomes
‘Rebel Priest’ Rev Jules Gomes
The Rev’d Dr Jules Gomes, BA, BD, MTh, PhD (Cantab) is a journalist and academic.

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