People are celebrating all over Ireland today because of the judgement handed down in the Marriage Equality cake row in Northern Ireland. A Christian couple, the owners of a family bakery in Belfast, have been found guilty of discriminating against a customer on the grounds of his sexual orientation. He entered the bakery and ordered a wedding cake, not for a wedding but for a Marriage Equality event, to have Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie on it alongside a slogan advocating same-sex marriage. The order was accepted, but upon further reflection the owners called the customer and rejected the order on religious grounds. As a Christian myself I do not agree that these people were in the right. Our faith places no demand on our refusal to afford equality to everyone, and their treatment of their customer was awful. Having said this, however, I equally do not want to live in a society where people are compelled to act against their consciences. From the details of the case it is clear that they did not turn the plaintiff away because of his sexual orientation. They turned away his order because of what it said. Agree with them or not, these people do believe that homosexuality is against the law of God. Forcing them to act otherwise will achieve nothing but further polarisation.

So many have spoken out against a conscience clause in equality legislation, and so long as this so-called conscience clause allows for the mistreatment of people then it must be rejected, but there are other conscientious concerns. This man’s custom was not refused. What he wanted this family business to put on his cake was fundamentally at odd with their deeply held religious and conscientious beliefs – and they will break the law rather than act against these beliefs. Had I such a business there are certain perfectly legal slogans I would not emblazon across my produce. You want to force me by law then I will happily close up shop and, in some cases, be prepared to go to prison. I happen to be a big believer in conscience. My conscience is not the same as the McArthur family’s, but I do believe that, however misguided, they have a duty to obey their conscience. We will achieve absolutely nothing by becoming a society that punishes a person for obeying his or her conscience. We all know that the referendum on Friday is important and that every single vote counts. If this case has sent out the message that people of the McArthur’s religious worldview are to be persecuted then these people will mobilise. If you don’t trust me on this I think you need your head examined.

– Ùr-Fhàsaidh
Jason Michael
Blog Author


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