Peter Strong: Australian small businesses wouldn’t refuse to supply cakes for same-sex weddings so don’t suggest otherwise

Peter Strong /

There is currently a Private Members’ Bill being presented to the Australian Parliament about protections for religions and others who don’t like the idea of same-sex marriage.

This bill, proposed by Liberal Senator James Paterson, would give religions the right to refuse to marry same-sex couples, which in my mind seems about right. I will let others debate the merit of that part of the bill — although for the record I voted yes in the recent survey.

But in my role as the chief executive of a council focused on small business, I do take umbrage at the examples being used as to where the bill’s provisions could apply.

One example has related to whether a bakery could decline to sell a wedding cake to be used in a same-sex marriage. Apparently under the proposed legislation, the bakery owner could decline to bake that cake and could even place a sign in his or her shop stating: “We will refuse to make a cake for a same-sex marriage”.

That is where I take umbrage.

Firstly, under the proposal, the shop couldn’t refuse to make cakes or generally sell anything to LGBTI people. It is only cakes associated with same-sex weddings. So, if someone asks for a cake celebrating an anniversary of a couple living together, that would be okay. But what about a couple celebrating 20 years of a gay marriage? Would that be okay? The proposed legislation has a lot of problems and stupidity is one of them.

But back to the attack on business people. Giving examples of some crazy business person doesn’t help. Is there any bakery in Australia that would have a sign like that?

I believe examples like that are actually a false representation of Australian business people. Are we that stupid? That naive? That disconnected from our communities that we would even consider such a thing? Maybe, perhaps, there’s a minor chance that there is someone who may refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding due to their religious beliefs, but that person probably would refuse to make all sorts of cakes. I very much doubt that person exists.

What would happen if the provisions in this stupid legislation were extended? Could a taxi driver have a sign in the cab stating: “I will not accept you as a fare if you are going to attend a gay wedding”? Will an airline or even an airline pilot decline to fly because one of the passengers on a plane is flying to a gay wedding?

Can anyone imagine a hairdresser who has a sign saying: “I don’t do same-sex wedding hairdos”. Or a place that rents suits with a sign saying, “We provide suits for formals, weddings and special events (except same-sex weddings)”? How about a caterer saying, “We cater for all events (except gay weddings)”?

Could a motel owner have a sign saying, “I will rent you a room unless you are renting aforesaid room with the purpose of attending a gay wedding”? What if the guest spends 60% of the time in town visiting local touristic sites, can they stay in that room for 60% of the time?

All those businesses would be out of business.

Also, what would happen if a customer told the baker that the cake was for a ‘traditional’ wedding but lied and it was actually for a same-sex wedding? Could the baker sue the customer?

A further example of the stupidity is that fact that wedding cakes can cost between $500 and $750. No bakery that wants to stay in business will refuse that sort of business.

There is also the supply chain issue. Could a farmer refuse to supply artisan butter to a bakery that will make a same-sex marriage cake with some of that butter? Really? Who thinks these things up?

When it comes to attitudes and beliefs among the small business community, they are very similar on most things with the broader community. There are some 2.3 million small business people (99% of whom don’t own a bakery) and their breadth of opinions on issues will reflect that of any other large group of Australians. The great majority of these businesses do not employ anyone or sell things, and those that do know that discriminating against a group costs you good skills and customers. And it is illegal. Those that openly discriminate won’t be in business very long at all.

I remember some years ago meeting a newsagent in a South Australian country town. We had a conversation and somehow or other got onto the subject of same-sex marriage. He said to me: “I don’t care if people are married, single or divorced. I don’t care who they are married to or divorced from. I don’t care if they are living in sin or living in Adelaide. I just want them to come into my shop and buy something.”

He probably summed up how 99.9% of business people think. Otherwise they wouldn’t be in business.

Please Senators, leave your personal religious or extreme ideologies out of business life.

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Peter Strong

Peter Strong is chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia.