Friday, June 26, 2015

No freedom ‘til we’re equal; Picard supports it

by Nani Lawrence, Writing Intern

This May, a Belfast judge found a family-owned bakery guilty of discrimination for refusing to make a Bert and Ernie cake with “Support Gay Marriage” in its design. Originally, they accepted the order, understanding the intent. Ashers Bakery called to cancel the order two days later based on the owner’s evangelical Christian beliefs.

Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled it [blatant] discrimination because they: 1) knew the man who ordered it was gay, and 2) would have no qualms about making a cake supporting traditional marriage. She also stated they were a public business, not a religious organization. Therefore, they have no right to reject a customer based on beliefs. That makes sense, right?

Not to everyone.

Sir Patrick Stewart, probably best known for playing Captain Picard and being an overall amazing person, disagreed with the verdict in an interview in early June. In his view, they shouldn’t have to write a message that personally offends them and their deeply-held beliefs. Their right to free speech should be balanced with other’s right to equality. In that case, why not make the cake, give the customer frosting, and let him write the “offensive” message?

Photo by: Dave J Hogan/Getty
Stewart later clarified his remarks. Stewart respects that others disagree with him, including the courts. But . . . 

What I cannot respect is that some have conflated my position on this single matter to assume I’m anti-equality or that I share the personal beliefs of the bakers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth. I have long championed the rights of the LGBT community, because equality should not only be, as the people of Ireland powerfully showed the world, universally embraced, but treasured.

This is akin to soldiers, when referring to flag burning, asserting “I disapprove of what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

This case remains murky. Most Americans know little about other nations’ laws, let alone their cultures. Ireland, and Northern Ireland—a part of the United Kingdom--seem to be signed on to the UK’s Human Rights Act.  The act went into effect in 2000, and its purpose was to incorporate the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The UK also operates, at least partially, under the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Neither of these are technically legally binding, and often the rights provided in each are widely interpreted. The citizens of the UK at least have the same avenues to challenge perceived injustices, without going all the way to the European Court in France.

In Hamalainen v. Finland, the applicant, Ms. Hamalainen, was born a male. She dealt with her “issues” for many years, married a woman and had a child. In 2006, she was “diagnosed a transsexual,” and started living as a woman. Three years later, she underwent gender reassignment surgery.

Her complaint came to the court because, although her driver’s license and passport reflected her new identity, her identification number did not. The court apparently did not side with her because her wife refused to have their marriage reclassified as a registered partnership.

If the UK’s law does in fact reflect the European Convention on Human Rights, the rights of a same-sex couple are not necessarily protected.  The Convention didn't protect the status of the marriage when a heterosexual couple became a lesbian couple. LGBT individuals probably don’t quite have the same rights as straight individuals. But hey, at least same-sex marriage is now legal in Ireland, right?

Sir Patrick Stewart has a point, especially if there is nothing regulating business discrimination. Ruling this way might even open the floodgates of businesses having to serve any individual, no matter how horrible the speech; who knows? The judge has a point, too, though. Turning away a paying customer based on your belief—especially after you already said you would service them—is not only messed up, but a very stupid business practice.

The best response to these incidents may be to simply move on, find another baker who will satisfy your order, and spread the word. If the media has shown anything lately, it’s that people can rally. The free market is a wonderful thing, and if any public service feels they have the right to discriminate, the public definitely has the right to choose not to frequent their establishment.
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