In 2014, Ashers, a bakery run by Christians in Northern Ireland, refused to ice a cake that said Support Gay Marriage.

A picture of Bert and Ernie, the allegedly gay characters from Sesame Street was to be placed on the cake.

The order was placed by Gareth Lee, gay activist. Ashers denied it knew he was gay but it is obvious it would have had a good idea that he was. The cake was to be enjoyed at an event marking the International Day against Homophobia.

The bakery agreed to fulfil the order and then later refused on the grounds that doing so contradicted its Christian belief that same sex marriage is wrong. Their attitude is that a bakery run by Christians amounts to a Christian bakery. 

What if the message had been, "Religious prejudice against LGBT is wrong"?  Or, "Being gay is a good thing"?  The message was a plea for same sex marriage which is not directly based on these principles but is inseparable from them.  The message was the innocuous Support Gay Marriage.

Ashers was not asked to make this message its own. It was not asked to judge if this message was ironic, an art statement, joke, personal, political or serious. Its job was to create the cake and not to worry about the intent behind the message. It was printing a message for somebody else not for Ashers but that did not stop it arguing that it has the right to refuse to print such messages for it opposes them on conscience grounds. A message being on the face of it offensive to a religion does not necessarily mean the religion is betraying itself if it prints it. Most religions have scriptures that offend some of its own teachings. Eg Jesus accusing God of abandoning him on the cross.

The bakery stands accused of discriminating against gay people for its refusal. The Equality Commission took it to court for discrimination and won. This decision was correct in the sense that a bakery going that far over something that is good and treating it as the end of the moral world is extremism and extremism can go out of control in seconds. To accuse somebody who does good, something morally neutral or what is reasonably good of grave evil is hate.

Ashers is appealing.


Also, Ashers did discriminate because they could have printed and displayed a disclaimer and didn't. The disclaimer could read, "If we make a cake with a message, we do not imply that we agree with the message." Instead, they refused to bake the gay cake despite the fact that they must have used suppliers whose policies and business ethics they didn't agree with. The disclaimer is already there but is just not on paper. But if Ashers wanted to respect their own beliefs, they needed to be very clear on the need to divorce themselves from any cake that endorses and urges people to support same sex marriage. They needed to find a way to bake the cake and be true to their beliefs. They needed a clear disclaimer - simple.

There is still no disclaimer so how can they say they respect gay people? No disclaimer means you will make any cake and even now they will not bake any gay cakes.

What is religious freedom?

Has Ashers been denied freedom of religion? No. It is a company not a religion or a religious order. Freedom of religion as a Church or organised system of worship is not the same subject as freedom for people as religious individuals who form a company or business.

In the states, many argue that the First Amendment gives religious freedom only to organised religions, not to religious individuals. In other words, Americans possess no right to enforce religious rules outside their place of worship. You can bar a gay couple from your temple but not your supermarket.

That Ashers opposes this perfectly reasonable principle speaks volumes.

Tolerance and Conscience

Tolerance is a two-way street - if Ashers wants tolerance it has to be tolerant towards gay causes.

You cannot prove that Ashers really had a conscience problem with the cake - letting them discriminate opens the door to using conscience as an excuse to discriminate. A person saying their conscience condemns something is nothing something for the law to care about - their conscience could in theory say the opposite tomorrow. It opens the door to putting what you say is your conscience on trial - you would need to give a lot of evidence that something really is your view. What if a Christian science teacher refused to teach that life could have evolved without a God? We ignore her conscience claim because the evidence says that evolution could have happened on its own and if God is involved it is not evident.

Ashers need to tell us if it is their theological conscience or moral conscience that is at stake. Are they against gay marriage because the Bible says so and not because they have done research and found out for sure that it is harmful? If religion causes such trouble over morality that is bad enough but bringing theology into it is only worse. The true opponent of discrimination does not encourage anything that is going to encourage it.

It is interesting how most people say that Ashers has the right to its opinion about same sex marriage and that same sex marriage activists have the right to theirs. True but what if one side is right? What if one side is supporting not an opinion but a fact? Do you really have the right to say that somebody has an opinion on x being correct when they might actually know its correct? Automatically calling a fact or knowledge an opinion just puts facts and opinions all on the one level. It is unfair to treat a fact as a mere opinion and insulting. It leads to the tyranny of rubbish opinions and reasonable ones being treated as equal. And this inevitably means treating the holders of them all as if they make sense. Can you really let a history teacher say that God made the world in 1900 and that the records before that were fabricated by Satan and treat that person the same as teacher who teaches the standard history? The world has enough to do without having to treat rubbish opinions as serious contenders for being facts.

Some complain that religious rights were being overridden by gay rights. The same often believe that gay people do not have any right to have their sexuality celebrated in any way. But suppose there was an equal contest between religious and gay rights or they were near enough to equal. What can you do but maybe toss a coin? That Christians would not want that says it all!


Ashers is a bigoted business and is a reflection of Christian bigotry and its polite ill-will. It is guilty of discrimination. And it is a worry that it has a wide level of support for its bigotry and its lies. Ashers calm slow burner bigotry is the most effective and dangerous form.


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