I spotted a comment on Twitter yesterday recommending a boycott of the Waterfront Hall. Their crime? Allowing the hall to be used for a public rally, organised by the Christian Institute, on behalf of Ashers – a local bakery whose Christian convictions would not allow them to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. A bigot fest, apparently.
Interestingly, someone else on Twitter has raised the question of whether Waterfront staff had to endorse Ashers’ stance. Fair point: would an ardent supporter of gay marriage have been allowed the evening off or would they have been compelled to show those with whom they disagree to their seats? Should they? What if the management of the Waterfront had refused permission for the rally, arguing that it went against what they believed? There’s a can of worms.
Anyway, back to the boycott.
The hashtag on the Twitter comment? #equality.
Which made me think.
I guess there are subtle ironies that we miss when we are so focussed on the perceived bigotries and blind spots of others. What kind of #equality is this? You wonder if everyone would really be equal in a world of #equality. Or whether #equality is only available to those who conform to the shibboleths of contemporary orthodoxy.
Meanwhile it turns out that there are times when it is OK to refuse to promote a message with which you disagree. In August the Guardian reported that some top PR companies will not work with people who deny climate change. I don’t remember hearing much of an outcry about that one.
There is freedom to disagree after all. Even when money might change hands.
What’s at issue here are questions of freedom and tolerance in a pluralistic society. Freedom of thought, of speech, of conscience, of expression. How do people get along in a society where there are no agreed absolutes, but where at times the absolutes collide? We can’t all be right, can we? But do we all have to toe the line – whoever draws it, or can there be room for dissenting voices?