A bakery in Northern Ireland run by Christians did not discriminate against a gay man by refusing to make a cake, The Supreme Court has ruled.
Gareth Lee had ordered a cake from Ashers Bakery in Belfast in 2014 with the slogan ‘support gay marriage’, but the couple running the business refused to fulfil the order.
However, the UK’s top court decided they did not discriminate against him on the basis of his sexual orientation or political beliefs, accepting their argument that it was the slogan and message they were against, rather than Lee who they had served before.
Following the Supreme Court judgement, Lee said. “The judgement today tells me that’s [being made to feel like a second class citizen] ok. I’m concerned for the implications not just for myself or gay people, but for everyone single one of us. Do we have to guess before we go into a shop whether we’re going to be served.”
The five Justices, Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Hodge, and Lady Black were unanimous in their verdict.
A Bit Of Background
Gareth Lee ordered a cake with Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and Support Gay Marriage slogan Credit: Flickr See-ming Lee
In 2014 Gareth Lee ordered a cake from Ashers bakery in Belfast for an event to mark International Day Against Homophobia.
As well as featuring a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street on it, he asked for the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ and a QueerSpace logo, a volunteer organisation for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Northern Ireland.
After initially accepting the £36 order, Ashers bakery telephoned Lee and told him the order could not be fulfilled as the bakery was a “Christian business” and should not have accepted the order.
Lee was given a refund and was able to secure a similar cake from another outlet in time for the event it was intended for.
A Rocky Road To Judgement
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Lee, supported by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, sued Ashers Baking Company for discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.
In May 2015, a Belfast judge ruled that Ashers bakery had discriminated against Lee by refusing to make the cake.
Daniel and Amy McArthur, who own Ashers Baking Company, appealed the decision arguing that it undermines democratic freedom, religious freedom and freedom of speech.
In October 2016 The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal ruled against them, declaring that the business is not allowed to only provide services to people who agreed with their religious beliefs.
The message was not indissociable from the sexual orientation of the customer, as support for gay marriage was not a proxy for any particular sexual orientation
The Supreme Court
However, today the Supreme Court disagreed with the two previous rulings and ruled that Lee had not been discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation, as Ashers Baking Company refused his order on the basis of the message rather than his sexual orientation.
Explaining the reasoning behind the judgement, the court found that the objection was “to the message on the cake, not any personal characteristics of the messenger, or anyone he was associated with.”
They added that the message was not “indissociable” from the sexual orientation of the customer – as anyone could hold a view on equal marriage regardless of their sexual orientation.
BREAKING: Family-run bakery who refused to make a cake supporting gay marriage "did not discriminate", according to a Supreme Court ruling.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) October 10, 2018
“Thus,” they continued, “there was no discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in this case.”
“The McArthurs could not refuse to provide their products to Mr Lee because he was a gay man or because he supported gay marriage, but that was different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.”