Sir Patrick Stewart’s Fine Line On Freedom Of Speech And LGBT Discrimination Splits Community
Sir Patrick Stewart is a well-know supporter of LGBT rights and marriage equality. However, his recent comments on a pro-gay cake decoration, requested by customers and denied by a bakery owner, startled some who have counted on his support. A closer look, though, makes it clear that Stewart’s stance is quite consistent with one that has been at the forefront in the equality vs disrimination fight all along.
You can see a portion of the BBC interview below. The relevant portion is at about 33 seconds in. Essentially, the actor and activist answered a question about a bakery in Ireland that was fined for refusing to make a cake depicting Bert and Enrie with the words “Support Gay Marriage.”
Surprising many in the audience, on both sides of the debate, Stewart responded that he did not support the fine, and did indeed support the right of the baker to refuse to print those words.
However, this isn’t a new line in the sand that he’s drawing: all along, when confronted with questions like, “Well, should a black baker have to make the KKK a cake?” and “What if a Nazi wants a Jewish person to make a cake?” and “Would you force a gay baker to make a cake for the Westboro Baptist Church?” the most common response is to clarify that the line between discrimination and free speech is not a matter of who is on what side, but whether the refusal is based on identity: that is, if you would make a Bert-and-Enrie cake for a white man, you must make it for a black man. If you would make it for a straight man, you must make it for a gay man. If you would make it for a Christian, you must make it for a Muslim. You may not choose not to provide a service based on the identity of the recipient. (Legally, there are exceptions, because discrimination is defined by protected classes. Legally, you can provide cakes to cat owners but not dog owners, pretty ladies but not unattractive ones, people in pink shirts but not in green ones, and so on – you just can’t deny service based on the person being in a ‘pretected class.’
Thus, yes, the gay man must make a cake for the Westboro Baptist member — but he doesn’t have to write “God Hates F–s” on it.
Patrick Stewart explained on his Facebook, as the controversy grew, why this is the same thing.
In my view, this particular matter was not about discrimination, but rather personal freedoms and what constitutes them, including the freedom to object. Both equality and freedom of speech are fundamental rights— and this case underscores how we need to ensure one isn’t compromised in the pursuit of the other.
He went on to say that he respected the rights of others to view this differently, but that he does not appreciate the actions of those who have claimed he is anti-equality or anti-gay. His full explanation can be read below, or here.
Notably, this was in an Irish court, and there was recently a similar case in America — in which a baker refused to print an anti-gay message on a cake. According to 7News Denver, Colorado’s Civil Rights Division ruled that this was not discrimination — especially since the baker went out of her way to try to find a way to accomodate the order without actually writing the message herself.
It’s impossible to know how the same case, with a baker willing to provide a cake to a gay couple but unwilling to write a supportive message on it, would go in an American court unless and until it actually arises, though he prevailing legal opinions are that this would be within the baker’s rights.
As for Sir Patrick Stewart — well, you can certainly disagree with his stance, but there’s no inconsistency in it, and it’s certainly no sign that he’s withdrawn his support for LGBT rights.