A dispute over pizza in Indiana has lead to a discussion abotu the nature of freedom. Sort of. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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Watch out for “Big Gay”: why the freedom to discriminate is a funny sort of freedom

Discrimination under the banner of “freedom” is on the rise again.

How, you may well ask, did a dispute over pizza and cake lead to a question about the nature of freedom? Food and for that matter, drink haven’t exactly played a leading role in the construction of the so called free world, but they’ve always been lurking in the background. There was the Boston Tea Party. “Let them eat cake,” tower-haired posho Marie Antoinette probably didn’t say. “Ich bin ein Berliner [a doughnut]”, JFK definitely did say. This time around, freedom is being called into question at a pizzeria in Indiana and a bakery in Belfast.

Last year, a Christian-owned bakery refused, kind of predictably, to make a cake that celebrated same-sex marriage. Finally, last month, the discrimination case brought against Ashers Baking Company went to court. Meanwhile Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party have been happily beavering away at some legislation that would protect businesses exactly like Belfast’s most reactionary confectioner from having to relinquish their religious principles to the evil Gay Agenda. That’s to say, the DUP want to officially legalise discrimination against LGBT people by businesses.

Also last month, owners of a pizzeria in the American Midwest whined about being persecuted into niceness. The owner of Memories Pizza in Indiana isn’t just rubbish at coming up with restaurant names, she’s also quite rubbish at not being bigot. And the fact that she thinks a gay couple would allow somewhere called Memories Pizza to cater their big day certainly hints at her never even met an actual homosexual. What’s more, fictional Indiana stateswoman and friend o’gays Leslie Knope would most likely be ashamed of the (now amended) corresponding “religious freedom” bill which threatened to legally entrench anti-gay discrimination in that state.

Aside from being small businesses run by even smaller minded people, what the UK bakery and US pizzeria have in common is their dependence on discrimination in the guise of freedom. In several US states, religious freedom bills are threatening to override anti-discrimination ones. The idea that business owners should be free not to accommodate LGBT people, on moral grounds, is right at libertarianism’s core. The spate of religious freedom bills are an important reminder that this is a political philosophy that favours the rights of bullies over their victims. It’s about the right to shoot over the right not to be shot and the right to be an utter bastard over the right to not have to suffer utter bastards.

Right-leaning LGBT people drawn to libertarianism for its supposed social liberalness, especially those voting in next year’s US presidential election, need to take a much closer looks at whose interests Republican senators like Rand Paul represent. Paul, a reasonably hardcore libertarian and presidential hopeful, is no proponent of gay rights. In a 2013 TV interview, when asked about his position on gay rights, Paul said, “I don’t really believe in rights based on your behaviour”. Except, of course, when it comes to the behaviour of gun owners. Or the behaviour of racists and homophobes. “Republican in not giving a fuck about gay rights shocker” isn’t going to appear on any front pages soon, but it’s essential that libertarianism isn’t seen as the cuddly (as cuddly as anything inspired by Ayn Rand can be…) sort of conservatism.

Bryan Fischer, head of the fundamentalist Christian American Family Association, recently tweeted that something called Big Gay is trying to restrict religious freedoms. Big Gay. Like Big Oil, or Big Pharma. I hope I’m not alone in finding this new term for the “gay agenda” more precious than a hedgehog in a tutu. And I’d personally like to thank Fischer for giving me the opportunity to tell people, “I work for Big Gay.” It sounds so much better than, “I lie in bed writing down words, eating Mini Cheddars and trying to masturbate as little as humanly possible.”

The fact is though that Big Gay exists. And thank fuck for that. Freedom to discriminate is a funny sort of freedom. I’d like to say it’s the kind that could only exist in a country where you can buy ammunition from supermarkets, but we have a fair bit of it in the UK too, as proven by the Belfast gay cake debacle. Meanwhile, LGBT activist group All Out have nearly reached their goal of 300,000 signatures for a petition aimed at blocking the DUP’s proposed anti-gay amendment. Nice work, Big Gay.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.