What level of respect does opposition to same-sex marriage deserve in a democratic society?

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Kenneth McK Norrie


LGBT rights, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, discrimination, dignity, homophobia, proportionality, same-sex marriage


The opening of marriage to same-sex couples shifted the legal debate from whether that should be done to the extent to which individuals and organisations can lawfully refuse to engage with same-sex marriage or can continue to argue against such marriages. This raises the question of the level of respect that needs to be shown to anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) views in a democratic society, a question that ought to have been, but was not, the central issue in Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd. By focusing on the right not to express a view that the defendants in that case did not hold, the United Kingdom(UK) Supreme Court avoided examining the views that they did, in fact, hold. The defendants’ belief that LGBT people are sinful, manifested in their opposition to same-sex marriage, is in essence a belief in heterosexual superiority, which is a form of homophobia and therefore inconsistent with the values underlying the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), especially that of dignity. This article explores the level of respect such beliefs and their expression can expect to receive in the UK. It concludes that it should be no higher than ‘toleration’. It will identify as the central flaw in the Supreme Court’s approach that it afforded a higher level of respect than toleration, that it allowed the belief in heterosexual superiority to exempt the defendants from a legal obligation that would have to be met by those whose views on homosexuality were more in line with the values of the ECHR.

Abstract 191 | NILQ 74.3.1 Norrie Downloads 114