Reflecting on the media coverage of the Ashers bakery Supreme Court ruling

‘Pride Cake’ by Dan DeLuca, 27 June 2011. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dandeluca/5874874133 (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/). The use of this photograph does not imply endorsement of this article by Dan DeLuca.
‘Pride Cake’ by Dan DeLuca, 27 June 2011. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dandeluca/5874874133 (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/). The use of this photograph does not imply endorsement of this article by Dan DeLuca.

A week after the UK Supreme Court delivered its verdict in favour of Ashers bakery in the so-called ‘gay cake’ case, we consider the media responses to this verdict.

The Supreme Court decision, delivered on 10 October, overturned earlier verdicts which ruled against Ashers bakery, by the court in Belfast and then in the court of appeal.

“[Ashers’] objection was to the message on the cake, not to the personal characteristics of Mr Lee. […] Accordingly, this court holds that there was no discrimination on the ground of the sexual orientation of Mr Lee.”

Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, 10 October 2018

The case, which had rumbled on for four-and-a-half years, was over the refusal by the Christian-run Ashers bakery in County Antrim to supply a cake to Mr Gareth Lee with the words, “Support Gay Marriage.”

According to Mr Lee, Ashers discriminated against him in refusing to supply him with the cake.

But last Wednesday, the five justices of the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that Ashers’ refusal to supply the cake was not discriminatory.

“Their objection was to the message on the cake, not to the personal characteristics of Mr Lee,” said Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, in delivering the verdict.

“Accordingly, this court holds that there was no discrimination on the ground of the sexual orientation of Mr Lee.”

How has this verdict come across in the media?

I have always believed that this case was never about discrimination against Mr Lee, and always about the message on the cake.

Nevertheless I must admit, last Wednesday’s judgement was one that I didn’t see coming. Nor the surprisingly positive media reaction which followed.

BBC

“I would like to commend the BBC for the way that the Supreme Court decision was reported on Wednesday. Their initial story on it is well balanced and clear in presenting the competing claims and the reasons the Supreme Court reached its verdict.”

I would like to commend, firstly, the BBC for the way that the Supreme Court decision was reported on Wednesday. Their initial story on it here is well balanced and clear in presenting the competing claims and the reasons the Supreme Court reached the verdict that it did; it also clearly mentions that the five justices were unanimous in their decision.

A friend of mine raised concern over the way BBC correspondent Mark Easton discussed this issue on the BBC Six O’Clock and Ten O’Clock News later that day. You can find the discussion on YouTube here.

Right at the end of the discussion (@ 6:53), Easton finishes, “But there is still a concern here: What is really going on inside the head of that retailer? Is a refusal to (say) print a Qur’an really about not condoning the messages of the Qur’an, or might it really be prejudice against Muslims? And that is why I think we may well see some further cases around this issue.”

My friend was concerned that Mark Easton was here casting doubt over the motives of Daniel McArthur and Ashers bakery when they refused to supply the order. For me, there has never been any doubt about the integrity of Mr McArthur’s motives: throughout this legal battle, Mr McArthur has consistently stated, “We didn’t say no because of the customer; we’d served him before, we’d serve him again.”

However, listening carefully to Mark Easton’s comments, he isn’t casting doubt over the motives of Mr McArthur and Ashers bakery. By the time in the discussion in which he is making the above, closing remarks, he has already moved onto the wider corollary of this ruling, which is that (@ 6:43) “for example, a Muslim printer can refuse to print the Bible, and a Christian printer can refuse to print the Qur’an — and that is not discriminatory.”

It is in the light of these further implications of the ruling that Mark Easton is saying there may arise questions over motive — not in the specific case of Ashers.

i News

I also applaud the i News for re-printing the cogent argument of LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell in the article, “Gay cake case: The Ashers Bakery verdict is a victory for freedom of expression, though it may not sound it.” (The article was originally printed on Peter Tatchell’s website here.)

“I would like to thank Peter Tatchell for the clarity he has helped bring to this case in the public narrative.”

Indeed, I must express my great respect for Peter Tatchell himself. Although Peter Tatchell profoundly disagrees with Ashers bakery’s stance on gay marriage, he clearly recognizes the right of Ashers bakery to hold a view with which he profoundly disagrees — and not to be compelled to express a view with which they profoundly disagree.

At a fairly early stage in this legal battle, Mr Tatchell came to the view that Ashers should not be compelled to bake this cake, since to do so would be a profound violation of their right to freedom of speech. And so, after initially supporting Mr Lee, he then came out in support of Ashers in this matter, and has consistently done so since.

I would therefore like to thank Mr Tatchell for the clarity he has helped bring to this case in the public narrative.

Why would a Christian (bakery) not “support gay marriage”?

It behoves us to finish by explaining why a Christian bakery, or a Christian individual for that matter, would profoundly believe it is wrong to “support gay marriage.”

Of course, what I say here is not the universal view of Christians in the West. Many Christians very ardently would support gay marriage; and so I claim here to express the views of all Christians. But here are some reasons, held by many Christians, why they could not, in good conscience, support gay marriage.

Reading the Bible: Some principles

First of all, it’s important to say that Christians believe that the Bible is the revealed word of God. So when we argue something from the Bible, it is on the understanding that here is God’s will revealed.

“Christians believe that the Bible is the revealed word of God. So when we argue something from the Bible, it is on the understanding that here is God’s will revealed. But we do believe the Bible needs to be read with care, and interpreted carefully. Even the Bible itself doesn’t regard all of God’s commands as universally and eternally binding.”

That is not to say we are so dumb as to think that everybody else holds the same view of the Bible. And we don’t expect them to.

And it is not to say that we therefore slavishly regard every microscopic utterance of the Bible as a fixed rule for life. Indeed, in one place the Bible even says, “There are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’”! — we aren’t therefore polytheists when we read that text! It’s important to read every text in its context (and here is the quotation above in its context).

We don’t even regard everything God commands in the Bible as binding on us. Because the Bible itself doesn’t regard all of God’s commands as universally and eternally binding. There are good reasons for this, to which we cannot do justice here. But suffice to say, that means we can’t simply and automatically take a command out of, for instance, the book of Leviticus and say that it universally applies to people today.

So the Bible needs to be read with care, and interpreted carefully.

With all that having been laid out on the table, let us now turn to a key text.

Key text: Genesis 2:18-25

18Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

24Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Genesis 2:18-25[1]

I am not here going to discuss the historicalness or otherwise of the above narrative.

The passage, however, teaches us two important things:—

Genesis 2:18-25 teaches Christians two important things:—

1) Marriage is an institution given by God himself; and

2) Marriage is between a man and a woman.

Many Christians could not endorse gay marriage because the Bible clearly teaches the above two points.”

  1. Marriage is an institution given by God himself — and therefore not liable to human definition of what it is or isn’t.
  1. Marriage is clearly between a man and a woman.

The second point is reinforced by the remainder of the Bible, in which particular marriages are always between a man and a woman.

It is true, and well known, that many marriages in the Bible — especially in the Old Testament — are polygamous. Jacob, Saul, and David all had multiple wives concurrently, to name but a few.

But these should be regarded as defections from the ideal — not the ideal itself. The Bible itself is clear that God at certain times suffered, even permitted, defections from the ideal of marriage. See the discussion between Jesus and a group of Pharisees recorded in Matthew 19:1-12.

It is as simple as that. Many Christians could not endorse gay marriage because the Bible clearly teaches the above two points.

I don’t know Daniel McArthur personally, but I’m quite sure that something like the above thought process would have gone through his mind, even if implicitly, when he decided to refuse Mr Lee’s order. It really isn’t a matter of refusing Mr Lee’s order because of discrimination against him. Daniel McArthur’s statements throughout this legal battle have been consistently clear about that.

 

 

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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


[1] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2%3A18-25&version=ESVUK

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