Ann Widdecombe has said her “spirits sank to the bottom of the ocean” when she heard that Ashers Baking Company had lost its case.
Writing in the Daily Express, the former Tory Minister called the judgment against the Christian-owned bakery a “legal nonsense”.
Her comments came after last week’s ruling against the McArthur family, who own and run Ashers. Judges said the family had discriminated against customer Gareth Lee by declining to decorate a cake with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
Widdecombe highlighted that the McArthur family would have provided another cake for Gareth Lee but could not endorse his same-sex marriage campaign slogan.
She wrote: “A litmus test for democracy is the ability of an individual to reject state orthodoxy and exercise freedom of conscience.”
Forcing people to “affirm that which they do not believe – as is the case here – is the mark of totalitarianism itself”.
Widdecombe went on to recount a conversation she had with a politician from Gibraltar, which is due to vote on bringing in same-sex marriage soon.
He is supportive of gay marriage but insists Gibraltar must not “be like Britain”, which “upset diversity” when it redefined marriage.
Widdecombe said he specifically referred to the Ashers case and told her there are many faiths in the territory which must be allowed to “continue to dissent without fear of breaking the law”.
An ‘awkward conclusion’
The outcome of the Ashers appeal was also discussed on popular daytime television show The Wright Stuff.
Host Matthew Wright argued that: “You cannot end up in a situation where you are essentially being forced, could be forced by law, to publish things that you totally don’t agree with.
“You could have a Muslim printer being forced to print cartoons of Mohammed. You could have a Jewish printer forced to print denials of the Holocaust. These are situations that people should not be pushed to.”
Considering the future implications of the judgment, Wright added, “we’ve ended up with a very awkward conclusion”.
The panelists on the show were also unanimous in their agreement with the McArthur family’s side of the argument.
Poet Murray Lachlan Young said the case was not about the fact that Gareth Lee was gay but about the slogan, adding: “it’s about people being not allowed to politely refuse to do something that they disagree with”.
Posing the question “How do we resolve it?”, Wright went on to say that in a similar situation, a customer could get his order declined but then go to another shop and get it made, to which a regular panelist, broadcaster Anne Diamond, said: “Yes, that’s called common sense”.
In the Court of Appeal’s ruling against Ashers, 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 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.