The Supreme Court has ruled that the Christian owners of a bakery did not discriminate against a customer when they refused to ice a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” based on “religious grounds”.
The owners of Ashers Baking Company in Belfast, Amy and Daniel McArthur, won their case against Gavin Lee, a member of LGBT+ advocacy group QueerSpace. Five justices of the Supreme Court were unanimous in their decision to grant the Christian bakers their victory.
Speaking on their verdict, President Lady Hale said:
“It is deeply humiliating and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or any of the other protected personal characteristics, but this is not what happened in this case.
“The bakers did not refuse to fulfil his order because of his sexual orientation. They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation.
“The bakers could not refuse to fulfil his order because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage but that is quite different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.”
LGBT+ advocate Peter Tatchell supported the Supreme Court’s ruling, despite disagreeing with the bakery owners’ stance on gay marriage:
Ashers ‘gay cake’ verdict is victory for freedom of expression. The law should not compel businesses to aid political messages. https://t.co/F3l2KzwwM6
— Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell) October 10, 2018
“Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose.”
By contrast, a number of LGBT+ activists have expressed their disappointment in the verdict. John O’Doherty, the director of Northern Ireland’s Rainbow Project said:
“We are disappointed by this judgement. Ashers agreed to make the cake. They entered into a contractual agreement to make this cake and then changed their mind. While sympathetic as some may be to the position in which the company finds itself; this does not change the facts of the case.
“We believe this is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification.”
The ‘Gay Cake’ case started in 2014, when Lee ordered a cake from the Irish bakery featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia.
At first, his order was accepted and he paid in full but, a few days later, the company contacted Mr Lee saying that they would not make a cake with the message requested. In the original court case, District Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled religious beliefs could not dictate the law and ordered the firm to pay damages of £500.
Mounting a failed challenge at the Court of Appeal in Belfast in 2016, Ashers contended that it was never an issue with Mr Lee’s sexuality, rather the message he was seeking to put on the cake.
© 2018 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.
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