By Banyan Ryan
Ashers, a Northern Ireland bakery, was sentenced to court for discriminating against the sexual orientation of one of their customers on Tuesday, May 18th. Gareth Lee, a gay-rights activist, allegedly asked that the bakery prepare a cake with the “Sesame Street” characters Bert and Ernie, along with the caption “Support gay marriage.” After the bakery refused to oblige Lee’s request, the case was brought to the attention of Country Court on behalf of Mr. Lee by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
General Manager of Ashers Daniel McArthur let the courtroom know that he and his family have deeply held religious beliefs. Judge Isobel Brownlie, who was appointed to the case, stated that “The defendants are not a religious organization. They conduct a business for profit. As much as I acknowledge their religious beliefs, they are a business supplying services to all. The law requires them to do that.”
As of May 20th, Ashers bakery was found guilty of unlawful sexual discrimination against Mr. Lee. The case ended with Ashers having to pay £500 ($775) in agreed damages plus court costs. McArthur said that they were “disappointed” by the ruling and that “it’s been a difficult and exhausting time for us as a family but God has been faithful to us.”
A similar case happened just last April in Oregon, where owners of a Portland-area bakery refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and were also brought to court for it. After they too were found guilty, however, Administrative Law Judge Alan McCullough ruled that the owners would pay the couple $135,000 in damages, which is a huge difference compared to the $775 that Ashers was forced to pay.
This is mostly because Ireland has already legalized gay marriage while America clearly hasn’t. It stands to reason that forcing stronger punishments on the defendants would help our country grow towards legalizing it everywhere faster. But is charging the Portland bakery over 140 times the fine of Ashers a bit too extreme?
School Counselor Aura Solomon says that it isn’t, saying that she “grew up with parents who were present during the Holocaust,” and that she “knows the type of things discrimination can lead to.”
However, sophomores Avery Summers and Destiny Christensen disagree with the $135,000 fine placed on the Portland bakery. Avery states that discriminating against gays is still wrong and a bit messed-up, but refusing to make a cake for one couple is not dramatic enough for them to lose their business. “It could go towards complete legalization if brought to court, but it was still a bit much. I’m not against larger fines, but that much is too extreme.” Destiny agrees, saying that it was “Too extreme, but should still be more than Ireland’s. Somewhere near $5,000 dollars.”