Gay rights campaigner reverses course in gay cake dispute

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Wedding cake with groom figures on top.

Photo courtesy of Ivonne Wierink via Shutterstock

Wedding cake with groom figures on top.


ROME (RNS) In an about-face that has surprised many of his allies, a prominent gay rights campaigner has criticized a court’s decision in Northern Ireland to charge a bakery with discrimination for refusing to ice a cake with a slogan in support of same-sex marriage.

Peter Tatchell of Great Britain, a leading voice on LGBT issues, came to the defense of the Ashers Bakery in Belfast with a column published on Monday (Feb. 1) in The Guardian.

A customer, Gareth Lee, went to court in 2014 after the bakery refused to ice a cake with the phrase “support gay marriage,” with staff members arguing it was against their Christian beliefs.

Lee won his discrimination claim and Ashers was ordered to pay 500 pounds (about $720) in compensation. Although Tatchell at first supported the outcome, he now says — as the case heads for appeal — that he has changed his mind.

“Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion,” wrote Tatchell. The campaigner argued that there was no evidence Ashers discriminated against Lee as a gay individual, but instead because the staff didn’t agree with his message.

“In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas,” he said.

Tatchell argued the court ruling “set a worrying precedent,” suggesting it could lead to Muslims being forced to published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, or Jews made to publish the work of a Holocaust denier.

He nonetheless reserved strong criticism for Ashers’ opposition to gay marriage: “They claim to be Christians, yet Jesus never once condemned homosexuality, and discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound.”

Gay marriage is banned in Northern Ireland, despite being legal in the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

(Rosie Scammell writes from Rome for RNS)

  • Michele

    1 Corinthians 6: 9-10

  • Patty H

    So sorry to burst your bubble. Jesus did not write 1 Corinthians.

  • DavidP.

    Jesus didn’t write any of the New Testament, it all was written by people and inspired by God. Jesus did have one thing to say about marriage and it can be read for your self in Matthew 19 3-6.

  • Homosexuality is not condemned. Homosexual activity is. Thus, the Ashers believe sound doctrine.

  • Diogenes

    Jesus Himself did not record anything, but there are several admonitions by His disciples regarding homosexuality, including Paul who was not disciple during Jesus’ sojourn on earth, but subsequently became the most prominent evangelist of the 1st century. Nothing he wrote was abjured by the disciples closest to Jesus, Peter and John who wrote epistles of their own. The failure to understand history and appreciate context is the most basic error of those who cannot reconcile the text and teaching of bible with their own sympathetic perceptions of gay marriage, and thus are not competent to argue the question with respect to the Church and Christianity, the world beyond the Church notwithstanding.

  • Mike

    I get tired of the tired old parroted lines from liberals who want to strip away at Christian theology of covenant, marriage and family by pointing out that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. He never mentioned that the sky is blue, but it’s still true – all you have to do is look up and see that it is. Look at the context of Jesus’ earthly ministry and take note that he didn’t teach the inclusion of same-sex couples in his teaching of covenant, marriage and family.

  • No, Paul definitely wouldn’t have approved of same-sex marriage. He wasn’t too crazy about opposite-sex marriage either.

  • Jack

    The views of the gay rights campaigner are far more common, certainly in America, than one might guess. I have gay friends who have long felt the way he does.

    It’s easy and natural for me to take the freedom-of-conscience position, being that I am not gay and a Christian, but it takes courage and integrity for a gay person to join us in supporting this fundamental right. A gay person who does so is often persona non grata among activists. For an activist to take that position is all the more courageous.

    Whenever I get too cynical about the unrelenting selfishness of my fellow human beings, no matter what label they apply to themselves, I think about people like this. This is exactly, precisely, what true tolerance and decency are about…..It’s about transcending one’s own narrow self-interests and putting the other person first.

  • Jack

    The real story, Mike, is not about liberals who want to argue about what the Bible says or doesn’t say. The real story is about the decency of the gay rights activist who had the courage to break with fellow activists on the freedom-of-conscience matter.

    I think Jesus would befriend such a person were He walking the earth today.

  • MarkE

    But, if they had just wanted a wedding cake without a slogan – would the bakers be justified in rejecting the purchaser? That’s what the Oregon bakery case was about – there was no “sloganeering” on that cake. The couple just wanted a wedding cake, but were refused service because, in the baker’s mind, even just providing a plain cake was tantamount to “endorsing” gay marriage. There is a distinction to be made here, otherwise the pendulum on freedom of speech/thought swings way too far to one side.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Patty H is correct. Jesus NEVER attacked same gender couples, and despite the wild, non-specific claims of anti-gays, the word “h*m*sexual” wasn’t even invented until 1870. Many churches are marrying same gender couples now because they know what Jesus did. Jesus affirmed a gay couple. Read Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. Many of us are familiar with the Gospel story where Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion. In the original Greek, the word that the Roman centurion uses in this passage to describe the sick man – pais – is the same word used in ancient Greek to refer to a same-gender partner.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    The anti-gay bakers in Oregon not only attacked the couple ordering the cake in writing, they posted the private information and home address of the couple and incited others to commit a Hate Crime against the couple and their child. Funny how anti-gays never mention that’s the reason their fine for their criminal act was set at that amount.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    It’s very telling anti-gays aren’t specific about just which passages of the Bible “endorse” attacking LGBT Americans and trying to deny them Equal Protection Under the Law. Claiming that Jesus endorsed mixed sex marriage does not prove Jesus wanted to hurt same gender couples.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Fortunately, a majority of American Christians know better than to believe Jesus said, “homophobia is holy.”

  • CarrotCakeMan

    No, the real story is that the United States Supreme Court is not fooled by these specious claims that attacking LGBT Americans is a matter of “freedom of religion.” The Court is upholding the convictions of the anti-gay wedding service providers convicted of those crimes. Anti-gays should not take comfort just because some British guy doesn’t know our laws.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    We’ve all read the claims by anti-gays that they “have gay friends who don’t want equality and don’t mind giving anti-gays a special right to attack them.”


  • Jack

    Carrot Cake, when it comes to the hot-button social issues, SCOTUS is divided 5-4 into two hostile ideological camps. If a Republican is elected and a justice on the Democratic side kicks the bucket, it will be 5-4 on the Republican side. If you think 5-4 decisions by either side based on such conditions is an honest and settled reflection of what the Constitution says, you are hopelessly naïve — either about the existence of the two ideological camps or about the ability of the Court to flip against you on a dime.

  • Jack

    In other words, CarrotCake, you are in denial over the reality that the gay community is far from being a monolith on freedom-of-conscience issues pertaining to gay marriage.

    You’ve boxed yourself into an impossible corner.

    Hence you’re forced to call the subject of the article ignorant, and the friends I know non-existent.

    Let me suggest a better way: Quit denying reality and deal with it. Otherwise you make yourself look rather foolish.

  • Jack

    CarrotCake, I didn’t follow that case, but if what you’re saying is true, then of course they should face adverse consequences. But that is entirely different from arguing, as you do, that a baker should be forced to accede to a specific request from a specific customer to perform a specific service that violates that baker’s conscience. That is the heart of the matter. If in one particular case, the proprietor engaged in inciting conduct, then of course justice dictates that there be consequences for that.

  • Jack

    MarkE, that’s a reasonable point, given existing law.

  • Jack

    CarrotCakeMan, given that same-sex marriage was virtually unknown in history until about a generation ago, it’s fair to assume it wasn’t on Christ’s mind.

    You forget the obvious:

    There is an immense difference historically between homosexuality and same-sex marriage when it comes to societal prevalence and status.

    In the ancient world, acceptance and even celebration of homosexuality was common, especially in the Greco-Roman world.

    But until about a generation ago, in no culture was same-sex marriage even on the radar, let alone institutionalized.

  • Bev

    Jesus said only two things when asked about which laws were to be followed.
    1. thou shall have no other God before my father in heaven and
    2. Thou shall treat thy neighbour as thyself – treat people the way you want to be treated, no matter how they treat you – end of discussion.

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  • Sylvia Brown

    So…why don’t LGBT folks take their business to LGBT bakers? i do not understand all the hoopla except to incite hatred on the part of the LGBT towards Christians who are trying to live out their beliefs and faith in very troubled times.

  • Theodore Hyczko

    I want to you strengthen your faith that the Bible is true and Jesus Christ is Lord.
    On Palm Sunday the day Jesus declared the Messiah the pharisses ask his disciples to rebuke him. Jesus Christ said because you did not recognize the time of Messiah visitation that the city and temple will be destroyed Luke 19 (paraphrasing you should read it). On the 9,10 of Av (the Jewish day of Mourning ) in 70 AD the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. it was the same date of destruction as the first temple mention in Jeremiah 52. The funny thing is that the person who wrote the history of temple destruction jewish historian Joephus Antiquities of the Jews referenced the Book of Daniel that has the prophecy of the destruction of the second temple. Daniel 9 26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; Keep the Faith God Bless!!! Jesus Christ is Lord

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  • Alli

    Jesus does not at any point say “Don’t put your kids in the microwave” either. Does that mean he endorsed it? I actually am 100% pro gay rights. But I am also 100% in favor of people being free to act as their conscience dictates. Gay marriage is one of those things that should absolutely be legal in every civilized nation, in my opinion, but asking the church to endorse it is a bit much. Everybody wants to put words in Jesus’s mouth but the fact is, Jesus was a Jew. He didn’t come in with a whole new ruleset. Jesus states clearly that even divorce is a sin. Does anybody seriously think he would give homosexuality a hall pass? We all sin, we all have to make our peace with Jesus and with our Creator as best we can. I mean I’m divorced. If I ordered a cake that said “Happy divorce” and the baker refused to bake it, I would understand that and find another baker. Leviticus 18:22 22 hYou shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

  • And we were assured same sex marriage could not possibly hurt anyone.

  • MarkE

    Gee, then why didn’t black folks take their business to black stores? Oh, wait, that’s discrimination! Same thing.

  • Dennis Stewart

    Jesus didn’t have to. His Father did it for him.

  • Francis Kuhn

    Homosexuality , also know as Sodomy is a Sin. It is also defined as a Mental Illness.
    Secondly: Marriage can only take place between a Man and a Woman. It is an Institution that was Created and Ordained by God. NOT Man. The so called Same Gender “Marriages” are a total mockery.
    Lastly: Children need a Mother and a Father. + It takes a Man and a Woman to
    have Children.. NOT those of the Confused Gender.

    Those Moffies in Northern Ireland can go and see a Taxidermist.

  • Just a follower

    Wow! @CarrotCakeMan, I would love to hear how you think Jesus affirmed gay couples in those two passages (which are the same story).
    Please explain why you think that.

  • Just a follower

    BTW, I see your attempt to say that “pais” means gay, but that is what I would love to get an explanation of.
    Where did you learn that?
    Everything I can see in my research says that is the greek word for
    a) a child, either a boy or girl (gender neutral), as in Matthew 17:18; Luke 2:43; Luke 9:42; Acts 20:12 (as some examples)
    b) a servant, slave, as in Matthew 8:6, 8, 13; Luke 7:7 (as some examples)
    c) an attendant servant, as in a king’s attendant, as in Matthew 14:2 (for example)
    So please, where did you learn that “pais” means “same gender partner” (which as far as I can tell, had no Greek word equivalent in ancient Greek).

  • Just a follower

    @Jack – Don;t know if you will see this or not, but I would agree.
    The real story is the gay activist who stands for the religious freedom. Note that he did not say he agreed with them (which is his right) but that he agrees they should be free to stand on their beliefs.

    I think Jesus would befriend such a person were He walking the earth today, and I would like to befriend Mr. Tatchell also. I do not agree with his lifestyle choice but I am thankful that he has stood apart and spoke up about discrimination against the bakers. I can have conversations with a person like that.

  • Just a follower

    Hi @Bev.
    You may want to go read the Bible again, specifically where that comes from.
    He did not say those are the only two laws to be followed, otherwise murder and adultery would be ok. They are not.
    He was asked which COMMANDMENT was the greatest and he answered:
    “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
     Matthew 22:35-40

    It is also found in Luke  (Luke 10:25-28) and Mark  (Mark 12:28-31).

  • Grundune

    Excellent response. Your response was so good, I recommend getting another nom de plume. Diogenes was somewhat of a rogue in spite of his legend.

  • Vance

    Jesus never attacked people who have sex with animals, either, but that doesn’t mean He was okay with it. He very clearly did consider homosexual activity to be sinful. We know this because He condemned porneia (Greek), which takes in all sorts of sexual immorality, including homosexual activity and sex with animals. He certainly did NOT affirm gay couples!

  • Vance

    Christians who know that Homosexual activity is a sin also know better than to believe that Jesus said, “Homophobia is holy.” What’s your point?

  • Vance

    So if the owner of a wedding service refused, on religious grounds, to cater a mother-son wedding, would you accuse him of “attacking” incestuous Americans? What about a Satanist wedding? If I had a wedding service, do you think I should be fined for refusing, on religious grounds, to cater a wedding at the Church of Satan or putting praises to Satan on a wedding cake?

  • Matt

    Regardless Northern Ireland is the only sane section of the UK.

  • Paul

    Don’t forget the next statement 1 Corinthians 6:11 “And such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

    It’s not a passage of condemnation for sin, but of hope for the sinner – that through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ ANY sinner, the same as YOU (ME) can be washed, sanctified, and justified – made right with God, and forgiven.

  • Rich L

    Those who advocate for same-sex marriage often reference “protection under the law”, however they fail to recognize or admit that there is no Federal law granting same sex marriage and most states had laws prohibiting the practice. That authority has been illegitimately usurped by liberal court justices who took authority away from “We the People”. You seem to believe that those who oppose any marriage other than the tradition of one man with one woman are “anti-gay”, does that mean you would advocate for bi-sexual marriage, or are you anti-bisexual. Do you believe that our society should adopt the idea that people should legally be allowed to marry whoever they love. What about two sisters, what is the harm in that? Do you think that anyone should be discriminated against? Who would you discriminate against, CarrotCakeMan? I have posted this question to many leftists who advocate for same sex marriage and not one single person has the intellectual integrity to answer. How about…