We are delighted at Tatchell support over the Ashers case

Leading gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has had a change of heart over the verdict against Ashers
Leading gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has had a change of heart over the verdict against Ashers

Peter Tatchell, a leading gay rights campaigner, has come out in support of Ashers.

He has previously been critical of the bakery and claimed the original decision was a victory for equality.

The McArthurs of Ashers outside Laganside last year

The McArthurs of Ashers outside Laganside last year

Mr Tatchell has now written an article in the Guardian in which he says the law suit against the bakery was “a step too far”.

This case began when Ashers bakery declined to decorate a cake with the words ‘support gay marriage’.

Mr Lee, who ordered the cake, complained to the Equality Commission, who sent what was later described in court as a ‘knee-jerk’ letter. They alleged discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, very unhelpfully framing the case as a battle between religion and sexual orientation.

The district judge who initially heard the case decided against the bakers and ordered them to pay compensation.

Peter Lynas, NI Director, Evangelical Alliance

Peter Lynas, NI Director, Evangelical Alliance

Under the original decision, the law, which rightly protects people from discrimination, was extended to protect ideas.

Most disturbingly, the judge decided what the bakers were really thinking and whether it was appropriate – the dreaded thought police in action.

There is considerable concern that if this ruling stands, religion will have been effectively banished from the commercial sphere – you can have your faith, but you can’t take it to work.

And so, this week the case will be heard by the Court of Appeal.

Peter Tatchell was initially supportive on the verdict, but has now changed his mind.

He commented: “The court erred by ruling that Lee was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions. His cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for.

“There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order.”

Peter Tatchell and I have sparred a number of times on radio and TV about this case because we both recognise how important it is.

He is to be commended for his u-turn.

The McArthur family was found to have discriminated on the grounds of sexual orientation despite clear evidence that the McArthurs did not know the sexual orientation of the customer.

They would also have turned down a heterosexual customer ordering the same cake.

With respect to religion, a law designed to protect the belief of the customer or an employee has been extended and used against a business owner.

Mr Lee’s beliefs were not relevant to the decision not to produce the cake – they were, and remain, unknown.

To extend the law to include the religious beliefs of the supplier represents a significant change in the law that will have wider implications.

On the issue of political discrimination, Tatchell noted that the ruling set a “worrying precedent”.

Laws designed to heal decades of sectarian divide are now being used to create news ones – compelling people to promote political ideas with which they disagree.

It is deeply unfortunate that the Equality Commission have not played a wiser role in this whole incident.

“In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object.

“Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas.”

So concludes Peter Tatchell, and for a change, we are in total agreement.

Peter Lynas is Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance