So the McArthurs of the Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland have lost another appeal against their conviction. They remain guilty of discrimination after refusing to bake a cake with a message in support of gay marriage and were justifiably sued.
Good. It’s high time governments stopped offering up LGBTQ people as sacrifices to appease the wrath of the faith communities (sorry – to appease the religionists’ angry deities). Enough is enough.
Shouldn’t court rooms be hearing more important cases than that of a bakery refusing business to a customer? Shouldn’t gay people just shrug their shoulders, say “Live and let live,” and whistle their way to the next bakery in town to try their luck there?
No, and no. I’ll explain why.
It’s vaguely amusing but also disconcerting that many people commenting on media websites running with this story keep asking (as if to indicate an equivalence) if Jewish bakers should be forced to make cakes with pro-Hitler messages on them. Whilst we can all agree that Jews make the best-baked goods, what these apologists for bigotry are truthfully pointing out is that it is as offensive to some religious people to provide a service to gay people as it is for a Jew to be goaded about the Holocaust. Do these woolly-minded accommodationists (who includes Peter Tatchell amongst their ranks) think all bigots should be appeased? Can racist B&B owners dust down their 1960’s “no blacks, no Irish, no Jews” signs and pin them in their windows? No, as usual, it’s only the gays that are fair game.
There is a wider issue in identifying this problem too, because as good, progressive pluralists, we’re all supposed to ‘respect’ religious traditions, even though very little respect is usually forthcoming the other way. Gay people should not lose sight of how big a threat religion is to our liberties, and, in many countries in the world, even our lives.
It’s no accident that Italy was the last western European country to recognise gay relationships in law for property and inheritance rights, and even then with the manipulative Catholic Church breathing its unedifying signatures of fire, brimstone and hellfire in the background.
This is no minor quibble about pastry. The Church of England – our state religion – voted unanimously against marriage equality: their fear was, as always, concerned with not causing a rift in the Anglican Communion; far better to throw gays under the bus than to stand up for common human decency. In Northern Ireland, where religion holds more sway, in order to appease the greater number of bigots, gay marriage remains illegal. In more religious places still, such as many Commonwealth and all Islamic countries, homosexuality is illegal, and often punishable by death. The more religious a country, the worse things are for LGBT people. That’s why this is no small fight, and the stakes in cases like this are high.
The arguments in favour of the McArthurs’ discrimination are pretty poor. The McArthurs suggest that to make a cake with a pro-gay message would indicate their endorsement of it. What rubbish. Do executives of all commercial channels personally endorse every advertiser and their associated products they run with? Does every publisher endorse the point of view of every author they publish? Of course not.
Not only that, but how on earth in modern pluralistic societies would we ever get anywhere if every crazy belief from every religionist had to be accommodated by the rest of the human population? So much of this is excuse-mongering. The gays are an easy target of religionists because we remain their favourite bogeyman: I wonder if the McArthurs previously refused cakes to divorcees, or to members of other faiths, or even other denominations? I’m guessing not. The hypocrisy of being fussy over your own faith’s regulations is the speciality of zealots everywhere.
How have we arrived at this ridiculous state of affairs? Appeasement has a lot to do with it. Religious lobbies are loud and well-organised, and governments are always keen to throw them a bone to win a few votes. They are used to being able to treat LGBT people as sub-human. They’ve gotten away with it for so long. Look at the comments threads of any news story about this, and you’ll see that homophobia is one of three remaining socially acceptable bigotries amongst centrists and leftists (sexism and anti-Semitism being the others).
The problem, too, is that you can’t reason with extremist religionists. When you have a situation where a partially-educated adult can reject the obvious facts of evolution and cosmology in favour of a view of the world that says it was formed a few thousand years ago, and that humans were divinely created (Zac Efron, maybe, but most of the time, give me a break), then they’ll choose to quote Leviticus rather than see the humanity of LGBT people.
Hence the presence of the McArthurs outside the court room today, expressing their bewilderment at having lost the case (in fact, only Mr McArthur spoke. The little wife kept entirely silent by his side, presumably knowing her place, whilst her husband tub-thumped and pointed to the sky, to help the casual viewer determine the alleged location of his angry celestial overlord), and suggesting that to have baked the cake would have been a ‘sin’.
We’ve arrived at this verdict today because religious fundamentalists choose to whittle down the entirely of our lives and our relationships to one word – sin. It matters that we fight for the small rights like not to be discriminated against in the provision of goods and services because we have the right to be treated as human, and we should not have to apologise for our very presence. When religious people can look at a loving gay couple and see only sin, then that is a dark and dangerous societal problem and one that responsible governments should seek to address, and intervene where necessary. When religious people can think that the best thing a gay couple can do is to break up, throw away their love in favour of celibate lives, or lives of horrible deceit, entering into faux straight relationships, before they are willing to accept us, then we can know that there is no point in attempting reason, because they will never accept us.
That’s why equality legislation exists, and why individual human rights should always be favoured over and above ideologies. People are more important than ideas. Whatever the religious think, sexuality isn’t chosen. Crazy beliefs are.
I wear the battle scars from this. Simply marrying the love of my life tore my family in two, and the devastating consequences rumble on. So often there is no accommodation where religion is concerned. So let’s not be sanguine that the Irish voted for marriage equality – it doesn’t mean that gay people from Catholic families are now free from bigotry, abuse and rejection. I’m living testament against that fantasy. There are battles remaining to be fought and won.
We should have no quarrel with progressive faith leaders like Dave Tomlinson, who opposes the actions of his community’s leaders and wants to change hearts and minds. Gay charities should seek dialogue with faith communities, and gay people less cynical and less hurt by religion than me might be able to make some progress into reaching a place where our existence is not an affront to the faithful and our relationships and marriages are not reduced to notions of ‘sin’.
Don’t fool yourself though, there will be plenty of other casualties along the way.
But let’s celebrate the verdict today. The McArthurs failed, which indicates that their side is losing the larger argument, and people are more swayed by reason than by superstition (either that, or their deity is on our side too).
So yes, the cake matters. Taking ordinary human interactions for granted is a hallmark of a civilised, tolerant, accepting society. It’s time the religious grew out of their sulk and joined the adult table. If they can stop being offended by the existence of gay people, they may actually learn something about human compassion they won’t find in their holy books.
Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, it’s management or editorial teams. If you’d like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.
Freelance writer and the theatre and book editor for Entertainment Focus, as well as one third of the podcast Doctor Who: The Complete Menagerie (Almost).
Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.