Ashers 'gay cake' case: Quoting Bible in 21st century is no argument
It's hard not to feel a certain sympathy for Daniel McArthur, a young man standing up for what he believed in and what his church, the Reformed Presbyterians, had advised. What jars is his seeming lack of empathy for others. His statements were all about what he had been through, how he was dragged through the courts and how he believed he was right. There was no mention that other people - like the gay community and their relatives - and how they might feel.
Consider Gareth Lee, the customer who brought the complaint. He was a regular at the shop the McArthurs own; he worked just down the street. He then put in an order for a cake iced with the words 'Support Gay Marriage' and had it accepted, but, a few days later, was told that it would not be accepted because, as Christians, the McArthurs felt gay marriage was contrary to the law of God. This was clearly deeply disturbing for Mr Lee and not the sort of moral lecture you go to a baker for.
It could have been better handled. They might have offered to supply the cake and not ice the offending word 'gay', they might have looked for a member of staff who didn't mind, or let Mr Lee finish it.
Equally, Mr Lee could have taken it on the chin and gone somewhere else, as he ultimately had to, but he had every right to sue and the courts have vindicated that.
These things leave a scar. One young gay man told me how he waited until he left Northern Ireland to declare his sexuality precisely because he feared that here people with fundamentalist religious convictions would feel freer to pass judgment on him.
Ashers could have proclaimed themselves a fundamentalist Christian bakery. Then, Mr Lee might have known to steer clear. They could have put up a notice, or printed a message on their receipts to say that a cake's design does not imply endorsement.
They could have put up a notice saying they don't reproduce political or religious messages. Instead, their website allows you to design your own cake.
The argument that the Bible says marriage must be between one man and one woman is, in any case, false. It advises loving your wife, but also provides rules for the treatment of multiple wives and slave girls. Anyway, in the 21st century, you can't shut down an argument by saying "it's in the Bible" - especially when you can't point to the precise passage.
Nowadays, we have to learn to rub along and show tolerance to one another.
I'd like to discuss some of this with Mr McArthur, but so far he hasn't agreed.