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.

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Theresa May missed an easy opportunity on EU citizens' rights

If the UK had made a big, open and generous offer, the diplomatic picture would be very different.

It's been seven hours and 365 days...and nothing compares to EU, at least as far as negotiations go.

First David Davis abandoned "the row of the summer" by agreeing to the EU's preferred negotiating timetable. Has Theresa May done the same in guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living here indefinitely?

Well, sort of. Although the PM has said that there have to be reciprocal arrangements for British citizens abroad, the difficulty is that because we don't have ID cards and most of our public services are paid for not out of an insurance system but out of general taxation, the issues around guaranteeing access to health, education, social security and residence are easier.

Our ability to enforce a "cut-off date" for new migrants from the European Union is also illusory, unless the government thinks it has the support in parliament and the logistical ability to roll out an ID card system by March 2019. (It doesn't.)

If you want to understand how badly the PM has managed Britain's Brexit negotiations, then the rights of the three million EU nationals living in Britain is the best place to start. The overwhelming support in the country at large for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, coupled with the deep unease among Conservative MPs about not doing so, meant that it was never a plausible bargaining chip. (That's before you remember that the bulk of the British diaspora in Europe lives in countries with small numbers of EU citizens living in the UK. You can't secure a good deal from Spain by upsetting the Polish government.) It just made three million people, their friends and their families nervous for a year and irritated our European partners, that's all.

If the United Kingdom had made a big, open and generous offer on citizens' rights a year ago, as Vote Leave recommended in the referendum, the diplomatic picture would be very different. (It would be better still if, again, as Vote Leave argued, we hadn't triggered Article 50, an exit mechanism designed to punish an emergent dictatorship that puts all the leverage on the EU27's side.)

As it happens, May's unforced errors in negotiations, the worsening economic picture and the tricky balancing act in the House of Commons means that Remainers can hope both for a softer exit and that they might yet convince voters that nothing compares to EU after all. (That a YouGov poll shows the number of people willing to accept EU rules in order to keep the economy going stretching to 58 per cent will only further embolden the soft Brexiteers.)

For Brexiteers, that means that if Brexit doesn't go well, they have a readymade scapegoat in the government. It means Remainers can credibly hope for a soft Brexit – or no Brexit at all. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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