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Peter Tatchell's Ashers U-turn welcome

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 02/02/2016

Peter Tatchell
Peter Tatchell

The U-turn taken by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell on the Ashers Bakery gay cake row shows the complex and nuanced nature of the dispute. After the bakery's owners were found guilty of discriminating against a gay customer who had asked the firm to put a message on a cake supporting same-sex marriage, Mr Tatchell described the verdict as a victory of equality.

But now, as the firm prepares to appeal the decision, he has changed his mind, saying the verdict was wrong and could set a precedent for other businesses to act against their firmly held genuine beliefs.

His support for the firm is surprising since he does not agree with the owners' opposition to same sex marriages and even supports protests against them.

But, he, as this newspaper has consistently argued, feels it is wrong that people should be forced to go against their genuine beliefs.

Anti-discrimination legislation was introduced in Northern Ireland to prevent people being unjustly barred from jobs and housing or being denied services. In the first instance the laws were primarily designed to combat sectarianism in a divided society, and this newspaper supports laws which prevent discrimination against any person.

But we defend the rights of people to hold views which run contrary to accepted public feelings as long as those opinions are genuinely held and do not incite hatred or deny other people expression of their legitimate views.

Mr Tatchell has a long record on human rights, often taking part in protests which put himself in personal danger, and he has shown courage in this instance in changing his previously held stance. In this province, we know all too well how people can be entrenched in their bunkered mindsets, unable or unwilling to see other points of view.

There is a public perception - as was also underlined in the recent Pastor McConnell case - that there is a hierarchy of acceptable rights in modern society with the strident voices of those supporting issues like gay marriages seeking to be given precedence over more traditional views.

Christians, like the family which owns and runs Ashers Bakery, surely have the right to live their beliefs on a daily basis and not just confine them to their church or home. Let us hope that the Appeal Court accepts that argument.

Belfast Telegraph

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