Forcing Ashers bakery to sell a pro-gay marriage cake may seem a success for gay rights, but it’s opened a very strange can of worms
Is today’s ruling in Belfast a triumph for equality or a blow to freedom of conscience? Ideally, this shouldn’t be a matter of winners and losers. But the ruling verdict against Ashers bakery, which refused to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan, will feed the feeling many in Northern Ireland and beyond harbour: that the state apparatus is actively at odds with religious faith.
In some senses, of course, this is true. There are some supposed religious practices, such as the torture of children under the banner of exorcism, that the state should never permit.
But the Ashers case is nowhere near as clear-cut.
To recap. Gay rights activist Gareth Lee went to Ashers, a Christian-run bakery, asking for a cake to be decorated with a picture of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie and a slogan in support of marriage equality. Ashers initially took the job, but then, after an apparent tussle with his conscience, the bakery manager Daniel McArthur decided he could not, in good faith, carry out the commissioned work.