Monday, February 01, 2016

It takes guts to change your mind ...

There are few things more difficult an embarrassing than publicly admitting that you now think you were wrong about something, so when someone does so it is always interesting to read why.

Regardless of whether you agree with his present stance or his new one, it took a lot of courage for Peter Tatchell to publish an article in the Guardian in which he says

"I've changed my mind on the gay cake row."

His original opinion was that the prosecution of Ashers' bakery in Belfast for discrimination because they did not want to ice a cake with the words "support gay marriage" was justified. Obviously he did not and does not share their views about the equal marriage act (neither do I).

"The saga began in 2014 when the bakery said it was not willing to ice a cake with the words “support gay marriage” and the logo of the equality group Queer Space, claiming the message was contrary to its Christian beliefs. This struck many of us as anti-gay discrimination based on religious-inspired homophobic prejudice," says Tatchell. But he goes on to say that

"I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. 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. Nevertheless, on reflection the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision."

Considering the matter further, Tatchell has concluded that the person who asked for the cake was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for, and thus effectively set a precedent that people could not refuse to ice a cake or otherwise promote messages they profoundly disagree with - a precedent he was not comfortable with.

Referring to the anti-discrimination laws in Northern Ireland, he says that

"There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas with which they disagreed."

His article concludes

"The judge concluded that service providers are required to facilitate any “lawful” message, even if they have a conscientious objection. This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? 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. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages."

"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."

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