BBC Question Time panel criticises ‘gay cake’ row bakery

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Tory, Labour and Lib Dem representatives have all criticised Ashers Bakery after it was found guilty of discriminating against a man who asked for a cake which said “support gay marriage”.

The owners of Ashers Bakery in Belfast were earlier this week found guilty of unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation and political or religious grounds.

Last July, Ashers Baking Company – based in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland – refused the request of gay rights activist Gareth Lee for a cake showing the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie.

Appearing on the programme last night were Tory Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Labour MP Stella Creasy, Lib Dem MP Tim Farron, former Dragons’ Den panellist Hilary Devey and columnist Owen Jones.

Lib Dem MP Tim Farron, who has launched a bid to become party leader said: “It’s a shame it ended up in court, but when it’s all said and done, it’s important that you stand up for peoples’ rights to have their own conscience. But if you provide a business, it’s absolutely vital that you treat everyone the same and don’t discrimination and don’t act in a prejudicial way.”

“How can you play top trumps on rights?”, chimed in Owen Jones, to which Mr Farron responded: “If you’re providing a service, that’s the key thing – you need to do so without prejudice, without discrimination to those who come through your door.”

Tory Education Secretary largely agreed with Mr Farron, saying: “I think as Tim said, the court case is about the application of the Equality Act, so I think that’s why the courts were involved, but that’s not to say that they couldn’t hold that view. But if you are operating a commercial service, then the law has to apply to you like it does to all other businesses.”

Host David Dimbleby asked whether it would be possible for gay rights activists to continually go back to Ashers and ask for the cake, resulting in ongoing £500 fines.

Mrs Morgan replied: “I’d like to think that people are sensible enough not to do that, but yes, the law is the law, and we all have to follow it, particularly in the running of a business like that.”

Labour and Co-operative MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy said she was “horrified” by the case and criticised the audience for laughing that the suggestion that host David Dimbleby could face discrimination for his sexuality.

She said: “Everyone is laughing about this – why is this funny? If it was about someone’s skin colour we wouldn’t laugh about it – but we are laughing about homosexuality which tells us the way we’ve got to go to make Britain a country where everyone is free.”

Owen Jones added: “If this was an interracial couple, quite rightly, we wouldn’t be having this debate. The fact is, if you want to operate a service, you have to abide by health and safety law, you have to abide by other legislation, and you have to abide by equality legislation as well. There is no place for those sorts of attitudes in the modern world. But if you do have those attitudes, in my opinion, don’t run a servie that’s open to the public – it’s as simple as that.”

Former Dragons’ Den panellist Hilary Devey said the bakery should “turn the key now and go home”, following the ruling.