Supreme Court rules that Christian bakers did not discriminate against same-sex activist.

Family run Asher's Bakery in Belfast has been the subject of the 'gay cake' case since 2014 when Gareth Lee requested they make and ice a cake for him.

Christian owners Mr and Mrs McArthur have won their appeal in the highest court in the UK. The finding was about discriminating against a customer when they refused to decorate the cake with the words 'Support Gay Marriage'.

The unanimous ruling by five Supreme Court judges came last week in what has widely become known as the 'gay cake case'.

Gay rights activist Gareth Lee took legal action against the bakery owners, and initially won his case in the county court, as well as in the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.

The owners of the bakery in Belfast won their appeal against the ruling which claimed they discriminated against the customer.

Mr Lee had requested a cake featuring Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie. The message he wanted iced on the cake was favouring same-sex marriages.

Initially Asher's Bakery accepted the request and Mr Lee paid in full. Two days later the owners contacted Mr Lee and told him that they could not fulfil the order. The message on the cake conflicted with their own religious beliefs.

Mr and Mrs McArthur appealed the ruling in Northern Ireland's Court of Appeal and took their case to the London Supreme Court. The case was unanimously agreed by five Supreme Court judges.

Lady Hale, the president, said that the bakery did not decline to bake the cake because of Mr Lee's sexual orientation. They would have refused to bake the cake for anyone, no matter what their sexual orientation was.

Lady Hale went on to say that while it was an affront to human dignity to deny a person a service due to their sexual orientation, this had not been the case. Mr Lee was not refused service due to his sexual orientation, but about placing a message on the cake about an issue that they profoundly disagreed with.

Mr Lee said that he had no claims against the bakery on grounds of political or religious beliefs. He had no idea that events would turn out in this way when he ordered the cake.

Mr Lee went on to say that the ruling has consequences for everyone, he felt like a 'second class citizen' in Northern Ireland. People should not have to consider whether they will be served before entering a shop.

After the hearing Mr McArther, who is the general manager of Asher's Bakery, stated that he knew all along that they had not done anything wrong.

Lady Hale commented that the bakery could not refuse to supply their produce to Mr Lee because of his beliefs. However, they were not obliged to ice the cake with a message which deeply offended them.

During the appeal against the hearing which was held at the Supreme Court in Belfast, the justices were told that the owners were being forced to act against their own religious beliefs, and that the court was penalising them for refusing to ice a cake with a message they profoundly disagreed with.

Mr Lee took legal action with the support from Northern Ireland's Equality Commission. Originally district judge Isobel Brownlie ruled that the law could not be dictated to by religious beliefs, and Asher’s bakery was ordered to pay damages of £500. Asher’s stated at that time that they had never had an issue with Mr Lee's sexual orientation. What offended them was the message he wanted them to add to the cake.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland which outlaws same-sex marriages. Gareth Lee stated that the cake issue was never about a campaign or statement, he simply wanted to order a cake from a shop that sold cakes made to order. He felt that he was made to feel like a second-class citizen after paying and then being refused.

The Rainbow Project, which is Northern Ireland's largest organisation for LGBT people said that they were disappointed with the ruling. The two parties had entered into an agreement and then the bakery had changed its mind

Daniel McArthur made a statement after the ruling saying that he thanked God for helping them through the challenges of the last four years. They were delighted with the ruling, especially as they had never thought they had done anything wrong. Mr McArthur maintains that they did not turn down the order because of the person who requested it, but rather because of the message itself.

Mr McArthur concluded by saying that Mr Lee would still always be welcome in the bakery. They were happy to move on and put the episode behind them.

 

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