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Tom Kelly: More important issues than words on a cake

Daniel McArthur of Ashers and his wife Amy at the High Court in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE so-called ‘gay cake’ story rumbles on despite the ruling of three eminent jurists on the matter. The McArthur’s, the family at the centre of the Ashers Bakery story, seem determined to take their appeal to the Supreme Court in London.

I certainly hope they don’t. There are more important matters in life than refusing to ice a few words on a cake.

First, let me be very clear - I have some sympathy for the McArthur’s on several fronts. They seem a clean cut, wholesome, family whose beliefs obviously form a large part of their lives and that includes their work.

On a personal level, I don’t think they should be forced to carry out something that they don’t believe in or that runs contrary to their faith. However, they like me run a business with a public offering.

Knowing that in their line of business it’s likely that someone at some stage may ask for an unusual message to be iced on a cake. I have seen cakes iced with comments from the Young Ones so rude that I could not repeat them in a family newspaper.

Ashers Bakery personalises cakes as part of their business and they did not make it clear that in doing so that this would not extend to political slogans. Hindsight is a wonderful gift.

A simple sign in their shop may have prevented this whole hullabaloo ever seeing light of day. But the law is the law and equality law is there for a reason. A very good reason so that people can’t be discriminated against willy nilly by the whims and beliefs those who would seek to assert their beliefs to the detriment of another.

Many of us who had parents who migrated to the UK for work in the 1950’s and 60’s remembers only too well their stories of those landladies who boldly declared in their windows- ‘No blacks- No Irish -No dogs.’

It seems inconceivable today that this was ever allowed. Imagine the outcry if today it said ‘No Muslims- no Christians- no Gays.’

The tragedy of the Ashers cake story is that it should never have got this far and in that I have sympathy for the view that the Equality Commission could have played a more constructive role by attempting some mediation.

I heard the Chief Equality Commissioner explain that as it stands that is not their role under current legislation. That may well be the case but isn’t it time that people applied common sense? Does mediation need to be legislated for?

The way that both some Christians and some members of the LGBT made this a cause celebre for either side was frustrating. There were real people at the centre of all of this – Gareth Lee and Daniel McArthur- though in fairness neither seemed too uncomfortable with the support they were receiving.

As the law stands- Ashers broke the law. They were fined and they should have accepted that. Paying their fine in no way violated their beliefs. They simply needed to refine their public offering at the bakery to say – they don’t do political slogans.

Some Christians see this as some form of persecution – it’s not. They should remember ‘give on to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render onto God what is God’s’. In this case the fine is Caesars!

No-one in Northern Ireland is inhibited from practising their faith. If they want to know about persecution try being a Coptic Christian in Egypt or an orthodox catholic living in the Levant. So too should the LGBT to use that great Portadown expression ‘wind their necks in!’ There are bigger equality battles yet to be won in Northern Ireland. Mr Lee for his part will no doubt find other bakeries only too willing to have his custom.

Which brings me to the role of public representatives. They are as entitled as anyone to their opinion on ‘icing for gay cakes, same sex marriage or any other issue for that matter but their primary duty is show respect for legislation, the courts and penalties applied for breaches of the law.

This constant barracking against equality legislation is pointless and proves politicians can’t be trusted to act as sole arbitrators when it comes to the issue of equality.

Northern Ireland is far from being the conservative society that some politicians claim it is-. Look at church attendances, particularly in protestant congregations. Ministers are as thinly spread as priests in parishes. But as the new Nobel Laureate would say ‘times they are a changing’.

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