Ashers Bakery: The £500k cost of this Supreme Court case isn't the only price to pay

The Ashers cake case has come to an end. Since 2014 a row over two puppets and three words etched into icing has divided opinion and courts across the UK, and the world.

Now, five justices on the UK Supreme Court have unanimously agreed that the bakery's refusal to make the cake was 'not discriminatory'.

ReutersDaniel and Amy McArthur, who own Ashers Bakery in Belfast, arrive at the Supreme Court in London, October 10, 2018.

Almost half a million pounds has been spent on the case with financial support coming from The Equality Commission and the Christian Institute. The bakery has always argued that to make the cake would have been 'inconsistent' with their religious beliefs. The customer who ordered it has claimed he felt like a 'lesser person' because of their refusal.

Legally, this will be the end. The 'winners' claiming a victory for 'freedom of speech and conscience', the 'losers' now fearing for both the gay community and the wider implications for businesses and customers.

Legally, the case comes down to interpretation of the law and its technicalities. Technically the bakery didn't discriminate against Mr Lee because of his sexuality. Legally, it wasn't him they had an objection to in this instance. They had an objection to his cause, that being marriage equality. I'll leave the law to the experts (although worth reading the full judgment of the Supreme Court which is here) but I've got a long list of problems with this case.

Right up there is the pitching of this as a case of religious freedom, which, for me, is problematic and inaccurate. The bakery's owners don't hold the Christian position on marriage equality, they hold a Christian position on marriage equality. It's a position that is undeniably widely held by Christians across the globe but it is a position based on interpretation and it is increasingly being questioned in the same way people of faith have come to question previously widely held opinions on gender, class and race, among others. Ashers' owners hold an opinion and set of beliefs on marriage equality but it is not definitive and neither is it indicative of what is or is not 'Christian'. It is however theirs to hold and act upon and, in this instance, it has been judged not to be discriminatory.

Sadly for many, myself included, the case has been labelled a battle between two communities that neither side fully represents or speaks for, and that can have no real winners.

I could continue on this path, and I did, typing word after word, sentence after sentence about the ins and outs, 'rights' and 'wrongs', but in the end I asked myself a different question. How else could this have ended?

And so I imagined the scene back in 2014, when a man walked into a bakery and ordered a cake. I imagined the moment that the people running the bakery realised they couldn't or didn't want to make that cake. I imagined the phonecall that had to be made when their decision was made. And I wondered what might have happened if it had gone like this:

'Hi Mr Lee, I'm calling from Ashers bakery. We recently took an order to make you a cake and I wanted to get in touch with you. You see, the people who own this company are a Christian family, we're not actually called the "Asher" family it's a reference to a story in the Bible. We named the bakery after that and we try to run the business in a way that matches our beliefs and the way we interpret the Bible.

'We've been thinking for a while now about gay marriage and we've come to the conclusion that we don't actually support it. The way we read the Bible leads us to a different conclusion, one that I guess you and I would disagree on. But we took your order and we've been trying to figure out what to do, because we figured that if you knew who we were and what we believed in, you might not actually want us to make your cake.

'This cake, which represents a cause you believe in and are fighting for, and we don't support, it just felt like there might be a better way. So here's what we've done. We called another bakery just down the road, because this is Northern Ireland and every other shopfront is a bakery, and they do support gay marriage and so we gave them your order and we gave them your money, and in the same timeframe as we'd agreed, you can go and collect your cake from them.

'I understand you might be really disappointed by us, and we're really sorry if this decision hurts you or upsets you in any way. We've done everything we can to make sure you get a cake made by someone who supports your cause without any extra hassle or fuss for yourself. I hope this won't stop you being a customer of ours, we might disagree on this issue but we don't want to be a bakery only for people who agree with us or believe the same things we do, that would be a very boring bakery. And next time you're in, you can have a traybake on the house.'

The truth is, I don't know how that would have gone. Gareth Lee might have still felt discriminated against and brought the same case, as would be his right. They may have spent four and a half years and almost half a million pounds in the same way. What I do know is that when it comes to the table, if we're really in the business of being 'Christian' we're meant to be pulling up chairs not 'closed' signs. We're meant to be building bridges not walls. We're meant to be baking cakes and eating cakes and sharing cakes with everyone regardless of who they are or what they believe.

Anything else might sound 'Christian', might feel 'Christian', might read 'Christian' but – like so much of this case – it doesn't leave a good taste in the mouth.

Matt White is a Northern Irish TV producer living in Essex and working in London. Follow him on Twitter @mattgwhite

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