It’s the case of the cake that wasn’t baked. And the story of how the icing on that cake became, bizarrely, an exhibit in the contemporary culture wars. In 2014 Gareth Lee, an LGBT activist, asked Ashers bakery in Belfast to make a cake decorated with images of the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie, together with the slogan: “Support gay marriage”.
I appreciate the argument, but Kenan Malik is presenting a different frame of reality. There cannot be a legal difference between discriminating against a class of people or discriminating against a particular individual, or else we effectively destroy the effectiveness of anti-discrimination legislation. A person who yells “Indians should go back to their own country or be shot” could argue that their attack was aimed at all people of Indian ancestry, not just the person he was yelling at, and therefore was protected under the freedom of speech.
I do recognise the the UK and the US are spare legal systems, and Northern Ireland, as a part of the United Kingdom, does not have a constitutionally-protected right to freedom of speech, nor is the UK’s legal system as engaged in ensuring a secular government as the US is. But the case described here has remarkable parallels to Masterpiece Cakeshop, currently pending before the US Supreme Court. We’ll have to see how both supreme courts rule to determine whether these two countries will uphold the hard-fought anti-discrimination protections against LGBTQ+ peoples, or whether these protections will be eroded and once again subject LGBTQ+ communities to becoming second-class citizens.