Tension over gay rights in Northern Ireland recently took a rather odd focus — in the form of a cake featuring Bert and Ernie, famous “best friends” on Sesame Street, hugging next to the words “Support Gay Marriage.” And the Christian bakers who refused to bake it have gotten a high profile, and surprising, backer: Patrick Stewart, The Telegraph reported.
The fuss began when the owners of Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland told an activist named Gareth Lee that they absolutely would not make his Bert and Ernie confection, Huffington Post UK reported.
They objected to the cake because it conflicted with their personal religious values.
“We don’t want to be forced to promote a cause which is against our biblical beliefs. We’ve had a lot of support from people who disagree with our stance on same-sex marriage. They think that we should have the freedom to decline an order that conflicts with our conscience,” general manager Daniel McArthur told the Independent.
The bakery returned the money to Lee paid for the cake, an action that he said “made me feel I’m not worthy, a lesser person and to me that was wrong,” the Guardian reported.
For their decision not to make the cake, the McArthur family was last month found guilty of unlawful discrimination and fined over $700.
Enter Patrick Stewart, a well-known supporter of LGBT rights. When he sat down for a TV interview this week, he was asked to comment on the issue. Stewart said he thought it was a “deliciously difficult subject.”
“Finally I found myself on the side of the bakers. It was not because it was a gay couple that they objected, it was not because they were celebrating some sort of marriage or an agreement between them. It was the actual words on the cake they objected to. Because they found the words offensive. I would support their rights to say no, this is personally offensive to my beliefs, I will not do it.”
The country’s conservatives have called the decision “a dark day for justice and religious freedom in Northern Ireland,” but it’s not exactly an overwhelming victory for the gay community either. Professor Graham Walker said it’s a hollow one, because the McCarthur’s objections were supported by many people, and not just Evangelicals. Patrick has been one of their more famous supporters.
“The verdict has created a difficult context for movement on this issue. It has made opponents of gay marriage here all the more defiant and determined. There was considerable sympathy for Ashers across the sectarian divide and indeed beyond… It is hard not to conclude that this case should never have gone to court.”
The owners intend to appeal, the Guardian added.
At the end of the day, the judge contended that the bakery exists to conduct “business for profit. As much as I acknowledge their religious beliefs, this is a business to provide service to all.” She believed the owners knew Lee was homosexual, and said laws exist to “to protect people from having their sexual orientation used for having their business turned down.”
What do you think? Do you agree with Patrick Stewart? Or was the court correct in convicting Ashers’ for discrimination?
[Photos Courtesy Twitter, Mark Davis/Getty Images]