Legendary British actor Sir Patrick Stewart has expressed his support for the Christian bakers in Northern Ireland who refused to make a cake containing a statement in support of gay marriage. Those bakers were later found guilty of discrimination and fined.
In an interview that recently aired on BBC Newsnight, Stewart, who is best known for his roles in "X-Men" and "Star Trek," indicated that he stood by the Ashers Baking Company and its Christian owners, Colin and Karen McArthur. That's because according to Billy Hallowell of the Blaze, the actor found key details in the ongoing controversy.
"It was not because it was a gay couple that they objected - it was not because they were celebrating some kind of marriage or an agreement between them," Stewart said. "It was the actual words on the cake that they objected to, because they found the words offensive."
Stewart added that the gay cake debate was a "deliciously difficult subject" to tackle.
"I would support their rights to say, 'No, this is personally offensive to my beliefs. I will not do it,'" Stewart said. "But I do feel bad for them that it cost 600 quid or whatever."
The British actor, who also works as an advocate for Amnesty International, elaborated on the reasoning behind his support for the Christian bakery on Facebook. He indicated that the interview focused "on a number of subjects related to human rights, civil rights and freedom of speech."
"During the interview, I was asked about the Irish bakers who refused to put a message on a cake which supported marriage equality, because of their beliefs," Stewart wrote. "In my view, this particular matter was not about discrimination, but rather personal freedoms and what constitutes them, including the freedom to object."
Stewart contended that "both equality and freedom of speech are fundamental rights."
"This case underscores how we need to ensure one isn't compromised in the pursuit of the other," Stewart wrote. "I know many disagree with my sentiments, including the courts. I respect and understand their position, especially in this important climate where the tides of prejudices and inequality are (thankfully) turning."
Stewart clarified that he still supports the LGBT community. In fact, one of his best friends, fellow British actor Sir Ian McKellen, is an openly gay man.
"What I cannot respect is that some have conflated my position on this single matter to assume I'm anti-equality or that I share the personal beliefs of the bakers," Stewart wrote. "Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth."
Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason thought that Stewart's defense of the Christian bakery had a "far more subtle analysis of the competing claims at stake in the gay marriage cake debate" as opposed to "the vast majority of commentators on the subject." She elaborated on the context surrounding the bakery in question.
"The cake in question, which was commissioned by activist Gareth Lee, was supposed to have a picture of Bert and Ernie on it along with the words 'Support Gay Marriage,'" Ward wrote. "The bakers at Ashers Baking Company do not, in fact, support gay marriage and declined to fill the order. A Belfast judge fined the owners $765, a decision they are now appealing."
According to Ward, Stewart suggested that a line should be drawn between "protections against discrimination and compelled speech."
"While that's not where I would draw the line, it's a perfectly legitimate place to do so," Ward wrote. "And it's pretty brave of Stewart to stick his neck out even that far."
As for the Christian bakers, Hallowell reported that the McArthurs plan to file an appeal against the judgment handed down to them.
"We continue to insist that we have done nothing wrong as we have discriminated against no individual but rather acted according to what the Bible teaches regarding marriage," the McArthurs said in a statement.
The McArthurs added that the ruling appeared to trample Christian ideals and could negatively affect society.
"Our hope and prayer would be that an appeal will allow us and other Christians to live out their faith in Jesus Christ in every part of their lives, including their workplace," the McArthurs said.