Belfast Telegraph

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

By Suzanne Breen

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.

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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