In February 2014, the state of Arizona tried to pass a bill that would give businesses the right to refuse their goods and services to same-sex couples on religious grounds. In Scotland, the owner of a small business - candy carts for weddings - tried the same thing.
Linda O'Malley, founder of Sweetsation Carts, writes
Being married to Arthur who is a minister [East Gate Church in Elderslie] certainly helps as I get invited to lots and lots of weddings. My love for weddings started as a child...
This led her to start a small business - themed "candy carts", especially for weddings.
I envisaged it all dressed in lace (or in coloured organza to co-ordinate with your colour scheme) with lovely vintage style jars filled with all your old favourite sweeties to treat your guests to ..... have you ever seen a group of adults up choosing their sweets from a cart? The chat is fantastic and exciting, it adds fun and laughter as people go down memory lane and stir up nostalgic memories of their childhood days and talk about their favourites sweeties ...
Liam and Steven plan to get married. They like the idea of having a candy cart at their wedding. They write to Sweetsation Carts to get a quote: they decide to book, and try to contact them again to pay the deposit.
And they get back a refusal. The email, apparently from the business owner, specifies that she's been lobbying against same-sex marriage and "as a Christian with strong beliefs" refuses to provide a sweetsation cart at their wedding.
Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in provision of goods and services has been unlawful since 2007: and the Equality Act 2010 amplified and clarified protections against discrimination. It is no more lawful for Linda O'Malley to refuse to provide a cart to a gay wedding than it would be for an atheist to refuse to provide her with some service because she is a Christian.
There have been similiar instances in the US of business owners refusing to bake cakes or do photography at same-sex weddings: and conservative Christians declaring that their refusals ought to be protected as a matter of religious liberty.
The East Gate Church's website makes no mention of sweetie carts in their Mission, Vision, or Faith statements. If the provision of a cart with traditional sweeties was a part of the faith of that church, and only provided to people who committed themselves to the Church of Sweets, Linda O'Malley might have a case for right of refusal. But as Sweetsation Carts appears to be a secular business with no religious connection other than the personal beliefs of the founder, O'Malley is obliged by law to provide her carts to customers without discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or religion and belief.
To those who opposed same-sex marriage in Scotland - about a third of the population, according to polling: 18 out of 129 MSPs, by the recent vote in the Scottish Parliament - the fact that they lost may be galling. But the law changed. From 29th March in England and Wales, and sometime in the autumn in Scotland, same-sex couples can legally marry.
In this country, conservative Christians have the doubtful resource of the Christian Institute, which will fund losing cases to the bitter end, appeal after appeal, for the sake of being able to claim Christians are being persecuted because they are not allowed to refuse goods and services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Arthur O'Malley has a right protected by law to refuse to marry same-sex couples. Linda O'Malley has the same right anyone has to refuse to go to a same-sex wedding if she's invited. But as a matter of business, Sweetsation Carts have to be provided to any couple who wants to pay for them.
Support for same-sex marriage - like use of social media - is strongly age-related. The younger a person is, the more likely they are to be active on social media and to feel it's wrong to discriminate against a same-sex couple getting married.
The average age at which a couple marry has been rising, but the average age at which men get married is 30: average age for a woman is 29. In an Ipsos-MORI poll conducted in 2011, support for same-sex marriage was 78% among under-25s, 77% among people aged 25-34, and 73% in 35-54. Only among the over-55s was opposition/approval more evenly split: 44% support same-sex marriage, 41% oppose.
I’m sure you can understand that both Liam and I were very angry and upset by this and we then had to explain to our friends and family why we wouldn’t be having a candy cart at out wedding party. Our friend and family were understandably angry and wanted people to know about this company discriminating against gay people. We could take legal action against this company but we think raising awareness about this is more appropriate. Our friends and family have been posting on their Social Media about the company and this has led to the company receiving abusive e-mails. Sweetsation Carts are blaming us for this abuse and believe we shouldn’t have been telling people.
While we do not agree with people sending abuse to the company, if they truly stand by their religious beliefs then they should have no problem with people knowing about it.
And this is why I have written this blog. I think it’s important for people t know that there are companies out there like this and we must stand together and support equal rights for everyone. Organising your wedding is supposed to be full of excitement and happiness and unfortunately Sweetsation Carts has ruined that for us.
So in the age-range where Sweetsation Carts could have expected to find most of their wedding customers, they have just taken a public position which about three-quarters of their potential customers oppose.
So if our appeals to equality, fairness, and our basic right to live in a civil society without doors being slammed in our face for being who we are don’t move you, I’ll bet a big hit to your pocketbook and state coffers will.
The governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, vetoed the anti-gay Bill on 26th February. The same week, Sweetsation Carts website went offline and their Facebook profile was deleted. Sometimes, discrimination does not pay.
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