Some of the most high-profile religious liberty disputes lately have involved conflicts where governments have sought to punish an individual—a florist, judge, photographer or baker—who declines to facilitate a celebration of a same-sex wedding or union.
Two such cases, both involving cake decorators, have been the source of some much-needed good news.
The most recent is a decision from the United Kingdom Supreme Court. In that case, a representative of an LGBT organization in Belfast, Mr. Lee, asked Ashers Baking Company, owned by committed Christians, to make a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage.” The bakery owners politely declined. Mr. Lee then submitted a complaint with the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland, which supported him in his discrimination suit against the company.
Although Ashers Baking Company lost at the trial court and appeals court, fortunately the UK Supreme Court found in favor of the baker and ruled that the company had not discriminated. Lady Hale, the president of the Court, affirmed:
“. . . while the bakery could not refuse to provide a cake—or any other of their products—to Mr. Lee because he was a gay man or because he supported gay marriage . . . that important fact does not amount to a justification for something completely different—obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed. In my view they would be entitled to refuse to do that whatever the message conveyed by the icing on the cake—support for living in sin, support for a particular political party, support for a particular religious denomination.”
The UK Court added a postscript to its judgement regarding the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision inMasterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This case also involved a baker who declined to create a cake for a same-sex wedding. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, did not address the question of whether the baker could be forced to endorse a message with which he disagreed. Instead, the Court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s proceedings were biased against the baker’s sincere religious beliefs, so the Court did not need to address the religious freedom or free expression issues related to the baking of the cake as the UK Court did.
The UK Court noted that there are differences in the two cases but recognized that the Masterpiecedecision sent a message:
“. . . there is a clear distinction between refusing to produce a cake conveying a particular message, for any customer who wants such a cake, and refusing to produce a cake for the particular customer who wants it because of that customer’s characteristics. One can debate which side of the line particular factual scenarios fall. But in our case there can be no doubt.”
These bakers are representative of many people of faith worldwide who willingly and happily provide goods and services to LGBT persons (whether it be cakes, flowers, pictures, etc.), so long as those goods or services are not requested in a way that forces them to act against their faith.
It is heartening that the highest courts of two nations have given at least preliminary recognition of the right for individuals to act on their beliefs in every part of their lives, not just in private.
Courts and other government bodies in other nations that similarly accord people of faith this type of respect will benefit not only the religious, but all who seek to act and speak with integrity in accordance with their deeply held convictions.
William C. Duncan is the Senior Policy Analyst for Family Watch International. Mr. Duncan has been the director of the Marriage Law Foundation and was formerly acting director of the Marriage Law Project at the Columbus School of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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