Peter Tatchell is a passionate human rights campaigner who outwardly voices his support of same-sex marriage and LGBT issues.
In 2014, he proclaimed his condemnation against Ashers Bakery in Belfast, Ireland, which was found guilty of “discrimination” because a pair of Christian bakers refused to ice a cake that would read “Support Gay Marriage.”
But now, two years later, Tatchell has halted his previous claims against Ashers Bakery, saying his change of heart has been motivated by the defense of freedom.
“Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion,” Tatchell wrote in The Guardian Feb. 1, saying “the court was wrong to penalize Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision.”
The court found Ashers Bakery guilty of discrimination in 2014 when the bakers denied Gareth Lee's order for a pro-gay marriage cake. This verdict was backed in light of the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland, which sets laws against discrimination.
Although Tatchell continues to endorse same-sex marriage and believes the lawsuit against Ashers to be a well-intentioned blow against homophobia, he ultimately found that the legal action against the bakery went “a step too far.”
After further consideration, Tatchell believes Ashers was simply acting in light of its right to religious freedom — not out of political bigotry, as the court's ruling suggested.
The “cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order,” Tatchell said.
“This finding of political discrimination against Lee sets a worrying precedent,” he said.
According to Tatchell, the anti-discrimination laws cited in the court’s verdict — such as Northern Ireland’s Equality Act and Fair Employment and Treatment Order — were never intended to “compel people to promote political ideas with which they disagreed.”
Tatchell also explained that this ruling could have dangerous implications for the future of other service providers. If Ashers Bakery was fined ¬£500 for defending their Christian beliefs, other businesses are also at risk if they refuse their services to customers with bigoted messages.
“If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions,” Tatchell suggested.
Ashers Bakery filed for an appeal, seeking to overturn the verdict with senior judges in Belfast. The two-day hearing is scheduled to begin on Feb. 3.
“In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object,” Tatchell stated.
“Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas.”
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