Newspapers across the political spectrum have recognised the serious implications of yesterday’s ruling on Ashers Baking Company.
In the wake of the judgment, The Guardian and The Telegraph both issued editorials condemning the ruling as damaging to free speech.
And two prominent homosexuals wrote strongly in favour of Ashers, stressing that freedom of expression – a keystone of democracy – is under attack.
Yesterday, judges at the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that the McArthur family, who own and run Ashers, had discriminated against customer Gareth Lee by declining to decorate a cake with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
Under the headline “Christians will suffer from this half-baked ‘gay cake’ law”, the Telegraph editorial said both Christians and freedom of expression would suffer because of the ‘fatuous’ ruling.
Outlining the facts of the case, it described it as a “deadly serious matter concerning freedom of expression and the rights of people to hold an opinion or object to someone else’s”.
A deadly serious matter concerning freedom of expression
The newspaper said the court was wrong to rule that “icing the cake did not mean the bakers agreed with the message”, and joined the McArthurs in calling for a change in the law.
A Guardian editorial said the ruling “cannot be welcomed by anyone who cares about free speech”.
The case, it argued, was “an attempt to compel someone to express – even in sugar paste – an opinion they rejected with all their hearts”.
— David Blevins (@skydavidblevins) October 25, 2016
‘The law is wrong’
Articles in The Telegraph and the Independent were scathing in their criticism of the judgment.
Writing in The Telegraph, journalist Neil Midgley said that, as a gay man, he was “siding with the Christians”.
the ruling cannot be welcomed by anyone who cares about free speech
“I’m horrified that Christian bakers are being forced to surrender their beliefs”.
He added: “This gay plaintiff is wrong; the law is wrong. Nobody should be forced by law to bake anybody else a cake. Ever.”
Discriminating against ideas
Homosexual rights and free speech campaigner Peter Tatchell also upheld his support for Ashers, having publicly changed his mind about the case earlier this year.
Writing in the Independent, Tatchell called the verdict a “defeat for freedom of expression”.
I’m siding with the Christians
“Ashers did not discriminate against the customer, Gareth Lee, because he was gay. They objected to the message he wanted on the cake: ‘Support gay marriage’.”
He continued: “in a democratic society, people should be able to discriminate against ideas they disagree with. I am saddened that the court did not reach the same conclusion”.
Handing down the judgment in Belfast yesterday, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and two other senior judges upheld County Court Judge Isobel Brownlie’s previous ruling that the McArthur family discriminated against Gareth Lee.
This verdict is a defeat for freedom of expression.
The judges recognised that the family did not refuse the service because Mr Lee was gay, but nonetheless ruled that refusing the order because of its slogan “was direct discrimination”.
The judgment states that Ashers can provide a “service to all or none but not to a selection of customers”, adding: “What they may not do is provide a service that only reflects their own political or religious message in relation to sexual orientation”.
The McArthur family and The Christian Institute, which provided legal support for them, will be taking legal advice to see what options for appeal remain open.