The Supreme Court has today handed down its judgment in the long awaited Ashers Baking Company case.
Background to the case
The McArthur family, who own and run Ashers Baking Company Limited, declined an order from Mr Lee to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage campaign slogan because it conflicted with their Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
It is interesting that Mr Lee brought this case as an associative discrimination case. Discrimination by association is typically where an individual complains about less favourable treatment because of their association with a protected characteristic that he or she does not possess. In this case the Mr Lee possesses the protected characteristic.
Notwithstanding this the Court of Appeal held:
‘to prohibit the provision of a message on a cake supportive of gay marriage on the basis of religious belief is to permit direct discrimination. If businesses were free to choose what services to provide to the gay community on the basis of religious belief the arbitrary abuse would be substantial.’
Supreme Court judgment
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court and in its unanimous judgment today it overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision.
Lady Hale stated:
‘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, religion or belief. But that is not what happened in this case.’
Lady Hale went on to state that:
‘The bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to Mr Lee 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.’
Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decision, this case is a reminder to businesses that they have to comply with the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 when providing services to customers and clients.