Thursday 21 May 2015

The gay cake

The facts are not in dispute. A baking company was taken to court for refusing to bake a cake with the slogan "support gay marriage". The judge ruled that they were guilty of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

But the case is a lot more interesting than just that.

The owners have said, and I believe them, that if the same people had come into their shop and said "I'm gay, and I want to buy a loaf of bread", then they would have happily sold the bread. Likewise, a cake. The problem was that they wanted the cake decorated with a slogan that the shop owners didn't like.

So here's the thought experiment we should all do. If you ran a cake shop, and someone asked for a cake decorated with the slogan that you would find the most repulsive, would you do it? Or would you say no?

For example, if someone asked for a cake decorated with the slogan "Support Adolf Hitler". I think that if a bakery was asked to make such a cake, they would be within their rights to refuse; a cake shop is a private business, and can turn away business that they do not want. And the slogan is a political statement. Just like "support gay marriage" is a political statement.

The important thing is that they didn't discriminate against the purchasers because they were gay; they refused to put words on the cake that they found repulsive. This is not discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, it's refusal to support a political opinion. It's discrimination on political grounds, and that's legal.

And it has to be legal. How can we vote for someone to be an MP, unless it's on the grounds of their political opinion?

The cake purchasers have the right to express their opinion, of course they do. They could have bought from a different cake shop, or decorated the cake themselves. But do they have the right to force other people to support an opinion that they don't agree with?

This case has generated a lot of discussion. Not, of course, as much as "What colour is this dress", because this case requires a considerable amount of critical thinking, whereas the dress just needs an opinion. And that's a shame, because I think there's an important principle at stake here.

We now have so many rights. Huge numbers of rights, all enshrined in legislation. But sometimes, one right comes into conflict with another; your right to swing your fist conflicts with my right to an unpunched nose. And when rights conflict, the law has to resolve the conflict. And sometimes the law gets it wrong - I think the judge in this case got it wrong. I hope it goes to appeal.