A woman claims she will shut down her wedding cake business, because she does not want to sell wedding cakes to gay couples, and she would be forced to do so by the Equality Act. She fears prosecution, and claims that three hundred Christians have been prosecuted in Canada simply for “their belief in traditional marriage”. She comments,
My religion clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman. It clearly states that to take part in a homosexual act is sinful. I didn’t write these rules, the church didn’t write these rules, God did! I would be more than happy to sell a birthday cake to a gay person – there is no moral issue there, but I am unable to help the celebration of something my religion deems sinful. The issue is that there is no protection in law for people like myself. I either have to go against my religion, or risk prosecution. In the 21st century, UK law does not protect my right to freely practise my religion – that’s the problem.
Her misunderstandings are typical of those opposing equal marriage, and should be refuted.
The statute is the Public Order Act 1986 as amended, part 3A: Hatred against persons on religious grounds or grounds of sexual orientation. Not all of this part has been brought into force by commencement order, yet.
s29B(1) A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred or hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
s29A In this Part “religious hatred” means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.
s29AB In this Part “hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation” means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to sexual orientation (whether towards persons of the same sex, the opposite sex or both).
Note the protection of freedom of expression sections:
s29J Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.
s29JA In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.
“Threatening” is an ordinary word, with an ordinary meaning, but the Crown Prosecution Service states:
The following types of conduct are examples which may at least be capable of amounting to threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour:
- threats made towards innocent bystanders or individuals carrying out public service duties;
- the throwing of missiles by a person taking part in a demonstration or other public gathering where no injury is caused;
scuffles or incidents of violence or threats of violence committed in the context of a brawl (such as in or in the vicinity of a public house);
- incidents which do not justify a charge of assault where an individual is picked on by a gang.
Threatening, abusive or insulting is the offence in s4 of the Act. For religious hatred, the CPS points out the need to prove the speaker intended to be threatening, rather than that the words would likely be thought threatening by the victim; and it is not an offence to use words which are abusive or insulting but not threatening.
So you can call Catholics fools who believe evil rubbish, but you cannot tell them you are going to beat them up because they are Catholic. And you can loudly proclaim that gay people are sinners, in danger of the fires of Hell.
Under the Equality Act, a gay couple could seek damages for her refusal to provide her business’s services to them, because they are gay; by s119 an award of damages may include compensation for injured feelings. Because the victim must enforce the law, and the prosecuting authorities cannot get involved, few such actions occur. Most victims do not want to commence court action.