The Supreme Court last week finally ruled on the controversial ‘Ashers’ case. In doing so they deemed that an evangelical Christian, Northern Irish couple had the right to refuse to bake a cake featuring a pro-gay marriage slogan after a customer requested it. Understandably, this has proved controversial, bringing into conflict freedoms of religion, political opinions, and sexuality. I personally believe that equal marriage was long overdue when legalized in Great Britain and is still long overdue in Northern Ireland. The Supreme Court has wrestled with the right to freedom of religious and political conscience: this is what this entire court case has been about.
The ruling deemed that the couple refused on the grounds of the message of the cake, rather than on the sexuality of the customer. It is for this reason that the case was not ruled discriminatory. This is the key point: the law rightly prevents businesses from refusing a service based on sexuality. It does not compel people to promote opinions contrary to their political or religious convictions. The line is a fine but crucial one, with the court effectively ruling that the cake would have been refused even were the customer heterosexual. The sexuality of the individual who requested it has nothing to do with it: if it did, the verdict would’ve likely been different.
The point here is not whether the couple involved are bigoted in their views on homosexuality. It is that their actions are not inherently so, and my own view that their refusal was somewhat petty is not grounds to render it illegal. In this regard, the case goes to the heart of what democracy should stand for. Any democracy must be vigilant against the ‘tyranny of the majority’. This means that minority views such as opposition to same-sex marriage, which opinion polls show is an increasingly small minority view, must be tolerated within the law. Such minority views might make some people uncomfortable, but there is no legal basis for changing the law in this respect. Minority views need to be represented, as well as the majority.
The right to not be discriminated against because of sexual orientation is a right which was not infringed upon by this case. Thus, I applaud the court’s decision in this delicate matter. The court case itself battled with the fine line between freedom of conscience and freedom from discrimination. The explanation that it was the message, not the customer, that the business objected to demonstrates that the ruling will not lead to any relaxing of laws which protect against discrimination. This judgment has in my view come down on the right side of one of the most difficult conflicts a democratic society faces. This ruling is an affirmation of the fact that we are owed both a right to our opinions and a freedom from discrimination.