Earlier this week we eventually had a verdict in the long drawn out “gay cake” court case that has dominated the media in Northern Ireland (and indeed around the world) ever since that fateful day almost a year ago when Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland declined to make a cake for the gay rights organisation QueerSpace with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” iced over a picture of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. It has become known as the “Gay cake case” in the media, and after a long time spent considering the case the judge has determined that Ashers discriminated against the gentleman placing the order on the basis of his sexuality, for which they have been fined £500.
Before giving some thoughts on this I must make a disclaimer. As I write this I am eating a lemon meringue cupcake from Ashers.
First and foremost, it is poor journalism to refer to this as the gay cake case. The cake was never gay. Cakes cannot have a sexuality for they are inanimate objects. People have a sexuality, and yes the customer placing the order was a homosexual. But the cake was never gay. This was not a case about should a business be forced to make a ‘gay cake’. This was a case about should a local, family run business, be forced to print a slogan that went against their deeply held religious beliefs. Not fringe, fundamentalist religious beliefs, but religious beliefs that are held by a significant proportion of the population of the country this family business operates in.
Ashers are run by the McArthur family, who hold to the commonly accepted Christian view that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman. This is a belief that comes from Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This view is the one advocated by all mainstream (and most non-mainstream) churches, and indeed is the view held by most countries around the world – in only 19 countries is gay marriage legal.
Northern Ireland is not one of those 19 countries. Northern Ireland is a country with a strong Christian heritage, and while the issue has been debated several times at local government level on each occasion a vote to legalise gay marriage has failed. Instead gay couples are entitled to have a civil partnership which is a compromise that allows them to affirm their love for each other and receive the same legal benefits that marriage brings such as inheritance tax benefits.
So by producing a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” not only would Ashers have had to compromise their faith, they also would have been producing a cake with a political slogan that was in rebellion with the law of the land – they would have been guilty of promoting rebellion against the state. Not to mention the copyright infringement they would have been committing in using the image of Bert and Ernie without the consent of Sesame Street.
However, because they did not conform to the will of the liberal left elite, who speak of equality for all yet take every opportunity to deny that equality to Christians, they found themselves in court, sued by the Equality Commission for the audacity of holding to a viewpoint that the Rainbow Project disagrees with. And in a shocking miscarriage of justice they were found guilty of discriminating based on the sexuality of the customer. This was a horrifying judgement as that was not happened. The customer was not denied custom because of his sexuality. If that had been the case then Ashers should rightly have been fined. It is unacceptable to deny service to anyone on the basis of sexuality, race, faith or gender. But had a heterosexual tried to order the same cake they would have been denied too. So this gay customer was in fact treated equally. The issue was with the design, and the result of this court case is that any artist is subject to having to produce artwork that conveys a message that they disagree with, or even in cases completely goes against everything they stand for. This is a dangerous position to be in, for it forces Muslim bakers to be prepared to make cakes with cartoons of Mohammed on them. It forces Catholic bakers to make cakes with the slogan “Support the Orange Order”. And interestingly, it forces gay bakers to make cakes with the slogan “I support biblical marriage” on them.
This judgement leaves it very clear that if a Christian is going to cling to Biblical views in the modern day UK society they are going to come under attack and legal constriction. It makes it clear that the rights of a Christian to have a viewpoint are trumped by the rights of those with opposing views. It makes it clear that Jesus was right when He warned that people would hate us because of our allegiance to Him, and it makes it clear that we have to choose if we will be a friend of the world or a follower of Jesus.
I must add that while I support Ashers in turning down this order, I do still feel the way they handled things was not perfect. They initially accepted the order, then cancelled it later. They should not have taken the order given that they knew as they took it they would be unable to fulfil it. In addition, this was never about gays v Christians despite some (on both sides) trying to turn it into that. As Christians we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves, and that includes our straight neighbours along with our gay neighbours. But we are also called to cling to our faith in God and to live by His Word, so that means not doing things that go against what He commands, and not supporting what He prohibits. Sometimes loving your neighbour means saying ‘I love you as a person, but I am not prepared to compromise my faith and integrity to support the choices you have made’. That is the joy of living in a democracy – differing viewpoints are allowed to co-exist and no-one is forced into doing what they believe is wrong – something those with a left-wing agenda who were clamouring for Ashers to be forced into baking a cake would do well to remember. And as Christians we must be mindful that all sin is rebellion against God and we must be careful not to highlight out one specific sin to make our flagship issue while staying quite on many other more ‘acceptable’ sins happening around us, for that is what leaves us open to accusations of being homophobic or intolerant.
There are lessons to be learnt for us from the ordeal Ashers has been through, and they have set an excellent example of standing firm for our faith even when the world brings all sorts of legal action against us and tries to tell us what we can and can’t believe. The Bible is what gives us our ethics and beliefs, not society. Throughout the proceedings they had many opportunities to speak to the media and share their faith which they boldly and uncompromisingly took. And by all accounts the public have not been put off buying from them but instead sales are soaring, proving again the truth that Joseph spoke to his brothers (including the Asher the bakery is named after) after they had sold him into slavery “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
And for the record – their cupcakes are very tasty. But their cake is not, and never was, gay.