The ‘gay cake’ case, in which Ashers bakery refused to make a cake with a pro-same-sex marriage message, has been referred to the Human Rights Court.
Ashers bakery, in Belfast, refused to make a cake with characters Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the slogan “support gay marriage” for Gareth Lee in May 2014.
They said that the message on the cake, which would’ve cost £36.50, went against their religious beliefs.
Lee argued that this was discrimination.
A Long Court Battle
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Lee, who is an activist within the LGBTQ+ community, brought a discrimination claim against Ashers over the incident. He won initially in the county court. Ashers appealed to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal, and there lost once again, as the Court held that there was direct discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation.
Ashers then appealed the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that they were not opposed to Lee’s sexual orientation as a gay man, but rather they were against the message that they were asked to write on the cake.
In October 2018 they won their appeal.
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, like same-sex marriage, that they oppose.
Peter Tatchell, LGBTQ+ Activist
The Supreme Court decision split opinions, with some activists like Peter Tatchell calling it a “victory” for freedom of expression.
“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, like same-sex marriage, that they oppose,” he wrote for RightsInfo.
“As well as meaning that Ashers cannot be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also means that gay bakers cannot be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans.”
However, Lee said the ruling left him feeling like a second-class citizen, and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which supported Lee during the court battle, stated that the ruling “may raise uncertainty about the application of equality law in the commercial sphere”.
What’s Different This Time?
Image Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons.
In the Human Rights Court, Lee’s case will not challenge the bakers’ right to hold any religious belief, which he says was never the issue.
In a statement, he said: “I have my own beliefs. But that’s not what my case has ever been about.
“This is about limited companies being somehow able to pick and choose which customers they will serve. It’s such a dangerous precedent.”
This is about limited companies being somehow able to pick and choose which customers they will serve. It’s such a dangerous precedent.
Gareth Lee, LGBTQ+ Activist
In the case referred to the Human Rights Court, the activist claims that the Supreme Court’s decision “fails” to respect his human rights.
“The latest hearings will attempt to challenge that ruling at the highest human rights court in Europe, citing the Supreme Court failed to give appropriate weight to Mr Lee’s rights under the European Convention of Human Rights,” Lee’s lawyer, Ciaran Moynagh, said.
“The Supreme Court ruling blurred the line, creates legal uncertainty for all of us in Northern Ireland, and the [Human Rights Court] is the appropriate place to clarify this issue.”
Want to learn more on this topic?
- Read more about the backstory on this case and a similar one in the USA.
- Take a look at our explainer on marriage and civil partnerships.
- Check out our infographic poster on freedom from discrimination.