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By elevating icing on a cake to a major issue, gay rights activists won battle but lost the war

By Suzanne Breen

Published 20/05/2015

Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court , A judge has found the Christian bakery guilty of discrimination , Ashers Baking Company, which is run by the McArthur family, declined the request for a cake with an image of Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie below the motto Support Gay Marriage. The order placed at the firm's shop at Royal Avenue in Belfast was for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia last May.
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court , A judge has found the Christian bakery guilty of discrimination , Ashers Baking Company, which is run by the McArthur family, declined the request for a cake with an image of Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie below the motto Support Gay Marriage. The order placed at the firm's shop at Royal Avenue in Belfast was for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia last May. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy outside Laganside Courts, where they addressed reporters following the verdict in the Ashers case

The court may have ruled against Ashers bakery but gay rights activists have not secured any great victory.

They won the case on the basis of the letter of the law in a courtroom. But in the far more important battle - for hearts and minds on the streets - they lost.

People who have backed them on every issue until now were not - and still are not - with them on this one. From the start this case has looked like crucifying someone for simply having a different viewpoint. And yesterday's verdict does not change a thing.

Yes, a gay person can now walk into any bakery in Northern Ireland, demand a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage and be able to warn any reluctant staff behind the counter of the legal consequences for refusing to comply with the order.

But how does that make them look in the eyes of the public? Just as intolerant and censorious as the bigots who have denied gay people their rights and humanity for decades.

Grandiose claims have been made likening our cake kerfuffle to the campaign for civil rights in the US. Such comparisons are ridiculous beyond belief.

In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, a black woman called Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. It was a defiant act of resistance in the struggle against discrimination.

In 2014, Gareth Lee went into a small Belfast bakery and asked them to ice a cake with Ernie and Bert from Sesame Street and a political slogan. The two incidents should not be mentioned in the same breath. This was never our Rosa Parks moment.

There are many matters for gay rights activists in Northern Ireland to be incensed about. This was never one of them. It certainly did not scream "glaring injustice" to the ordinary man or woman.

By elevating the icing of a cake into a major issue, I believe gay rights activists have trivialised and damaged their own campaign.

To the general public it now looks like they have nothing better to do than run around nitpicking and feeling permanently offended about something other people would just shrug their shoulders over and move on. From the outset, gay rights activists - rightly or wrongly - appeared petty by hauling Ashers to court. The impression created was that they had gone looking for a fight.

I wholeheartedly support gay marriage. If Northern Ireland ever held a referendum on the issue like the Republic, I would vote yes in a heartbeat. I am not a Christian and I do not give a hoot what the Bible says, or does not say, about homosexuality.

Had Ashers refused to serve a gay person, or to make a cake for a gay wedding, I would be first in the queue to picket them.

Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee gets a hug from a friend outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee gets a hug from a friend outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Dr Michael Wardlow(left() from the Equality Commission and Gareth Lee(centre) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
The DUP's Paul Givan(second from right) and Edwin Poots(second from left) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee who had tried to order the cake. Gareth Lee(centre) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee who had tried to order the cake. Gareth Lee(right) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee who had trued to order the cake. Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee(centre) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee receives a hug outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Ashers found guilty of discrimination in cake case. A judge has found a Christian bakery which refused to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan guilty of discrimination. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his familly Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel and Amy McArthur arrive at Laganside Court yesterday morning
Ashers' Daniel McArthur with his wife Amy and his parents Colin and Karen behind leave Laganside Court after the case finished
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his family. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel McArthur, general manager of Asher's Bakery gives a statement to the media before entering court
Ashers Baking Co on Belfast’s Royal Avenue, where Gareth Lee placed the order for the cake at the centre of the court action
Ashers bakery boss Daniel McArthur at Belfast Court. Pic Mark Simpson BBC
More than 2,000 people pack the Waterfront Hall to show support for Ashers bakery
Gareth Lee, whose lawyer put his side of the case to the court yesterday
Daniel and Amy McArthur arriving at Belfast County Court to fight a challenge by Northern Ireland's Equality Commission following their refusal to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan. David Young/PA Wire
The cake at the centre of the Ashers row
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his wife Amy on thursday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 26/3/2015 Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his wife Amy on thursday, Ashers face a discrimination case supported by the Equality Commission, after a dispute began when the Christian-run bakery refused a request to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Christian Institute support rally for Ashers bakery held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. Photograph: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
Christian Institute support rally for Ashers bakery held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. Photograph: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel and Amy McArthur with their baby daughter Elia
Christian Institute support rally for Ashers bakery held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. In attendance is the DUP's Sammy Wilson. Photograph:Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
The Ashers Baking Co outlet in Belfast’s Royal Avenue
Mayor Andrew Muir cutting a Sesame Street Bert and Ernie 'Support Gay Marriage' cake

But forcing a business to print a political slogan with which they disagree is not just wrong. It smacks of bullying.

I thought gay rights activists, of all people, would understand that. Had a gay baker declined to ice a cake with a slogan opposing gay marriage, they would have been hailed as a hero by those now denouncing Ashers.

That is the hypocrisy at the heart of the matter. Those championing this case were not only on dodgy moral ground, they made a massive mistake strategically.

'Cakegate' has backfired and alienated even normally sympathetic and supportive public opinion.

Gay rights activists have lost far more than they have won in this whole sorry saga. They picked the wrong fight.

Read more:

Tesco reviewing Ashers 'gay cake' judgement 

Everyone a loser in 'gay cake' row

Ashers verdict may be right in law, but it leaves deep unease  

Ashers 'gay cake' decision is a threat to our freedom of conscience 

'Gay cake': It's a ruling to rejoice in, but gays are still very afraid

Gay cake case: Branded law breakers by a court, but beaming McArthurs insist they have no regrets  

Gay cake verdict shows laws needed to allow for differing views, says DUP's Sammy Wilson  

Ashers 'gay cake' case made news all around the world  

By elevating icing on a cake to a major issue, gay rights activists won battle but lost the war  

Gay cake case: Churches united in criticism of 'dangerous' Ashers bakery decision

Ashers bakery couple: Guilty by law, but we're innocent in God's eyes  

Verdict was particularly disappointing for Christians, whose prayers weren't answered  

Ashers' customers divided on outcome of case  

Ashers Bakery lose 'gay cake' case: 'We will not be closing down, we have not done anything wrong' says boss

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