The Court of Appeal in Belfast has confirmed that a bakery’s refusal to prepare a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage was unlawful discrimination.
In 2014 to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Gareth Lee, a gay rights campaigner, had ordered a cake with the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie with the message “Support gay marriage”. However, the owners of Ashers Bakery, owned by the McArthur family, refused to fulfil the £36 order due to their deeply held Christian beliefs as in their opinion it would have been “sinful” to complete the order.
Daniel McArthur and his family argued that the bakery would have been endorsing gay marriage by baking the cake. This was rejected by the appeal court which held “The fact that a baker provides a cake for a particular team or portrays witches on a Halloween cake does not indicate any support for either.”
The judges also found that the McArthurs would not have objected to a cake carrying the message: “Support Heterosexual Marriage” and instead found that it was the use of the word ‘gay’ in the context of the message which prevented the order from being fulfilled. This amounts to unlawful discrimination as “the supplier may provide the particular service to all or to none but not to a selection of customers based on prohibited grounds. In the present case the appellants might elect not to provide a service that involves any religious or political message. What they may not do is provide a service that only reflects their own political or religious message in relation to sexual orientation.”
This case is a reminder that legislation on equality cannot be changed to suit one particular religious or political group.
Daniel McArthur has criticised the decision stating “This ruling undermines democratic freedom, religious freedom and freedom of speech.” It remains to be seen if the decision will be further appealed.
Michael Wardlow, from the Equality Commission, welcomed the judgment stating “The judgement today was very clear. It said unequivocally, faith is important, but faith cannot set aside equality legislation that has been long fought.”
You can read the full judgment here: http://www.equalityni.org/ECNI/media/ECNI/Cases%20and%20Settlements/2016/AshersFullJudgement-Appeal.pdf