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Gay cakes and culture wars

NEWS | John Sandeman

Thursday 21 May 2015

Another cake casualty

A Northern Ireland bakery has been found guilty of discrimination  for refusing to bake a pro-gay cake. Ashers Bakery in Belfast, which is owned by Christians, was asked by a gay activist to bake a cake with the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie and the slogan “Support gay marriage” to celebrate a  private function marking International Day Against Homophobia last year. The Northern Ireland Equality Commission ran the case for Gareth Lee, a volunteer member of the LGBT advocacy group Queer Space.

Presiding District Judge Brownlie summed up the issues: “The defendants are not a religious organisation; they are conducting a business for profit notwithstanding their genuine religious beliefs and in accordance with Regulation 16(2) are not therefor exempted by the Regulations. The defendants argue that the Regulations only protect sexual orientation and not sexual conduct. I prefer the plaintiff’s submission that same-sex marriage is or should be regarded as a union between persons having a sexual orientation and that if a person refused to provide a service on that ground then they were discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation.”

Judge Brownlie said she did not accept the defendants’ submissions that what the plaintiff wanted them to do would require them to promote and support gay marriage which is contrary to their deeply held religious beliefs.

“Much as I acknowledge fully their religious belief is that gay marriage is sinful, they are in a business supplying services to all, however constituted. The law requires them to do just that, subject to the graphic being lawful and not contrary to the terms and conditions of the company.”

The judge noted that the Northern Ireland Assembly had not included a conscience clause in the regulations. She also held that Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects religious expression, does not apply to companies.

The Irish republic is going to vote on gay marriage in a referendum on gay marriage on May 22.

Scotland’s Presbyterians have a bob each way.

The Church of Scotland has decided to allow people in same sex civil partnerships to be called as Ministers and Deacons. But the Churches General Assembly, meeting in Edinburgh, maintained the official policy to uphold the traditional definition of marriage. Parishes have been given the ability to opt out from the general policy. The church is expected to vote on whether to allow for gay marriage as well as civil partnerships for their clergy this week. UPDATE: The General Assembly has sent the approval for same Sex ministers to local presbyteries (local groups of churches) for ratification before it comes into effect.

Uniting Church Committee wants to study the issue some more

The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) committee or “Task Group” charged with bringing proposals on Marriage and Same gender relationships to the UCA National Assembly to be held in mid July in Perth, is proposing the church study the issue some more and bring a further report to a national assembly in three years time.

Gay marriage has enthusiastic supporters in the Liberal wing of the Uniting Church but its generally more conservative ethnic groups (Aboriginal people, Pacific Islanders and Koreans) are firmly opposed. The resolution seeks to have further discussions with the Aboriginal and “CALD” (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) groups in the UCA in “culturally appropriate ways”. The proposed resolution also calls for studying “changing the Church’s current relationship with regard to the conduct of marriages”.

These reports will be prepared for the National Assembly to be held in three years time, effectively ensuring three years of discussion. It is open for members of the UCA National Assembly in Perth to bring a proposal for same sex marriage forward, despite the Task Group’s recommendations.

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