There has been much outcry as of late with regards to the “#gay #cake row”.

Christian business owners in Belfast have failed in their appeal against the court’s decision to fine them for refusing to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage message on it. Many who are pro-gay rights have condemned the couple for their “hateful” and “bigoted” views. But while their actions may indeed be hateful and bigoted, they should not be punished for holding such views.

The "gay cake" row began two years ago when the bakery “Ashers” refused to ice a cake with the words “support gay marriage” on it, because this message disagreed with their personal religious views. The result was that the couple who own the bakery were forced to pay £500 compensation to the ‘victim’ of their discrimination.

The question is this: are we as a society happy to use government coercion against someone because they hold views that we do not agree with? We have a right to freedom of expression, but does that freedom not stretch to our own private endeavours?

What would happen if the bakery was run by a Jewish couple, and some neo-Nazi requested that they bake a cake with the swastika on it that says “Heil Hitler”? Would the judge fine the Jewish couple? Would there be a public outcry about the discrimination against the neo-Nazis? Of course there wouldn’t. Everyone has the right to be gay, in the same way that everyone has the right to be a neo-Nazi, you don’t have to agree with them, but they should be protected by law to live free from state persecution.

Are we happy, as a society, to force individuals to do something that is in direct conflict with their religious and ethical values? Should a vegetarian bakery be forced to make sausage rolls? Should a staunch Labour supporter be forced to print pro-Conservative  messages on t-shirts?

I am completely pro-gay marriage. But if the goal is to eliminate people’s personal bigotry, then banning discriminatory speech is not the way to achieve those goals. Doing this will not stop bigotry, if anything it will only increase it. The couple should never have been fined, and anyone who owns a private business should not be forced to do anything that is against their conscience – regardless of how bigoted you might think their views are. 

Freedom of speech means that people have the right to discriminate against whoever or whatever they want in their private lives, and this should extend to private business. In a free society, it is the people, and not the state, who will correct these bigoted beliefs in the long run. As consumers we have the power to vote with our feet and boycott the bakery or not give them our business.

 If the business keeps discriminating, then in 5 or 10 years they will have to make a decision to either stop being bigoted, or close up shop, because their customers will shop at bakeries that are more in line with their views. #ireland voted in a referendum to legalise gay marriage, so we know that the prevailing opinion on the issue is changing. The more public opinion changes, the less business the discriminating bakery will get.

Over time the market will correct for racism. The business that refuses to sell to a particular demographic, women for example, will suffer because of it. By not serving women the business will be missing out on at least 50% of its possible revenue and will, over time, be much less profitable than its competitors. In this way the market “forces” the business to change its bigoted ways or go bust, we do not need to state to interfere in these matters.

We cannot proclaim to be in a free society but then sanction individuals when their opinions profoundly disagree with our own. This leads to a tyranny of the majority and is the exact reason that we have freedom of speech in the first place. The only way to overcome bigoted ideas is to allow them to be expressed and challenged, not immediately shut down like some kind of Orwellian super-state.