Colorado man in legal row over 'trans cake'.
Cakes are back on the frontline in the war against religious privilege and compelled speech
I’m not sure many of us would have predicted that baked goods would be sent to the frontlines in the culture wars, but here we are again.
According to the Associated Press:
The Colorado baker who won a partial Supreme Court victory after refusing on religious grounds to make a gay couple’s wedding cake a decade ago is challenging a separate ruling he violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to make a cake celebrating a gender transition.
And it seems the battle for the bakeries isn’t limited to the USA. You may remember a huge legal row broke out in 2014 when a bakery in Belfast, Northern Ireland refused to make a cake with the message “support gay marriage” on it.
I appeared on a panel at The Battle Of Ideas in 2018 titled ‘From bakers to burqas: religious freedom today’ to debate this. As a staunch secular, pro-gay rights atheist, I think some may be surprised to hear me defending the right of the baker to say “no”. You can hear my reasoning for this in my speech below:
In short, I mentioned that we often look for perfect solutions to complicated issues. Were a baker to refuse custom to someone based on the fact they were gay, trans, black, female etc, then this would contravene the equality act. And rightly so. But this particular baker in Belfast was happy to offer its goods to the gay customer—but would not produce goods with the message “support gay marriage” on it.
My argument was that this falls into the category of compelled speech. And I very much doubt the kind of people attempting to enforce it would be happy to defend the right to compel a black tattooist to ink a white supremacist with white power symbols—or demand a Muslim owned printing business rattle off 400 cartoons of Muhammad. As funny as that would be.
Individual freedom is where we should fall on grey areas such as these. The Christian baker has the right to refuse to make a pro-gay marriage cake, and we have the right to tell everyone about it then take our custom elsewhere.
Earlier this year, after a 7 year legal battle, the courts seemed to agree with my assessment when they ruled:
“The supreme court found on the facts of the case that the applicant was not treated differently on account of his real or perceived sexual orientation, but rather that the refusal to supply the cake was because of the defendants’ religious objection to gay marriage.
“What was principally at issue, therefore, was not the effect on the applicant’s private life or his freedom to hold or express his opinions or beliefs, but rather whether Ashers bakery was required to produce a cake expressing the applicant’s political support for gay marriage.”
Which brings me back to the slightly trickier case of our god-botherer in Colorado. According to the Associated Press, the initial cake order and its specifics was accepted by the bakery. It wasn’t until the customer noted that their chosen colours (blue on the outside, pink on the inside) were picked to celebrate their sex change.
Pink with blue is not a political message in and of itself. And it was chosen to represent something to the customer in an entirely subjective manner. How many cakes must the bakery have made that were pink and blue before this? I can see a strong case being made that the baker refused service purely because their customer is transgender—as service was only refused at the moment they were made aware of this fact.
What are your thoughts on this case? Do you know how this stacks up against American laws? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.