In his famous poem “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley describes the head of the tyrant’s statue lying in the desert sand:
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
Ozymandias’ nameless sculptor had one thing in common with his innumerable brother sculptors, painters, and other artists throughout the ages: he was not well-positioned to turn down the job. Had he suggested to the king’s agent that his religion and his conscience really did not permit him to honor the king with his artistic talents, presumably the sculptor’s head would have hit the sand long before the king’s statue did.
But the sculptor also had one advantage in common with his brethren before and after him and that was his art. Shelley doesn’t tell us anything about whether Ozymandias liked his statue, with its “sneer of cold command.” Perhaps a guy like Ozymandias found it becoming – sweet actually. But whatever the case, the stone lasted as long as memory of the tyrant did and communicated across time what a schmuck its molder recognized Ozymandias to be.
And therein lies, I think, an answer to the conundrum in which those of today’s bakers in America who oppose same-sex marriages on religious grounds find themselves.
A California Superior Court recently ruled that Tastries Bakery owner Cathy Miller was within her First Amendment Right to free speech when she refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple because she could not “be a part of a celebration that goes against my Lord and Savior.” Interestingly the court so-ruled even though the engaged couple did not ask for any wording to be placed on the cake.
Miller naturally agreed – as most bakers in these situations do – that the couple was free to buy any cake that was already made and sitting in the store display cases. But when a gay couple requests you to produce a symbol of the joy of their union they are effectively asking you – the artist – to sanction that union. This is the same as the core issue of recognition of gay marriage by a religion or a state or a community: God or the state or the participants are basically saying it’s okay for two men or two women to get married. And when the state (to which you unavoidably belong) sanctions gay marriage it is basically saying that, whether you like it or not, it’s okay by you too.
But even if, as a baker and against your wishes, the state sanctions gay marriage, it is a step further to demand that you use your art in service of that recognition. Hence the entirely reasonable First Amendment ruling that such bakers cannot be forced into baking that cake.
Unfortunately, it is utterly unclear if this ruling will stand. When it comes to frowns and wrinkled lips and stares of cold command some of the more emphatic in the radical gay movement don’t concede any ground to the pitiful likes of Ozymandias. The Supreme Court heard arguments in December on a related wedding cake issue and a ruling is expected in June. Supposing that this or a subsequent ruling finds that the bakers have no choice, that they have to bake the damn cake, what then? They’re back, essentially, where Ozymandias’s sculptor was.
But don’t they, after all, have the same artistic avenue open to them as he did? If the cake decorator is asked for a cake for a gay wedding, if indeed he or she is allowed any artistic expression whatsoever, why cannot the artist simply represent, in the cake, the artists’ feelings about the marriage? Hell-fire icing, black crosses, unflattering figurines – it could be blatant or it could be subtle. Here’s your cake. Money back guarantee. Could the courts force the baker not only to provide and decorate a cake but to express in that decoration a message that the baker disagrees with? Surely that violates First Amendment rights.
I suspect that most devoted Christian bakers would find this solution unsatisfactory. But why? Isn’t it true that God never puts more burden on you than you can bear? Does He ask you to throw your business and your life’s work away? Praise Him with your icing … even if you have to be subtle.Published in