Legal costs for a cake that was never baked reaches almost £500,000

Legal costs for a cake that was never baked reaches almost £500,000 October 10, 2018

The UK’s Supreme Court has just ruled in favour of a pair of Northern Ireland bigots who, in 2014, refused to bake a ‘marriage equality cake’ for a gay couple.

The BBC reports that the cost of the long-running case, involving evangelical Christian bakers Daniel and Amy McArthur, above, who own Ashers Bakery in Belfast, has so far totalled £450,000.

The case was sparked by gay rights activist Gareth Lee. When Ashers refused to make a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage, he sued the company for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.

Ashers lost the case and a subsequent appeal, but today (Wednesday) the company won its appeal at the Supreme Court. In the court’s judgement, Supreme Court President Lady Hale ruled that the bakers did not refuse to fulfil the order because of his sexual orientation.

They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation. Their objection was to the message on the cake, not to the personal characteristics of Mr Lee.

She added:

Accordingly, this court holds that there was no discrimination on the ground of the sexual orientation of Mr Lee.

This conclusion is not in any way to diminish the need to protect gay people and people who support gay marriage from discrimination. 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.

Ashers bakery’s General Manager Daniel McArthur said he was delighted and relieved by the ruling.

I know a lot of people will be glad to hear this ruling today, because this ruling protects freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for everyone.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which has supported Gareth Lee’s action against Ashers to the tune of £250,000, said it would study the implications of the judgement carefully.

Said Dr Michael Wardlow, the organisation’s Chief Commissioner:

There is a concern that this judgement may raise uncertainty about the application of equality law in the commercial sphere, both about what businesses can do and what customers may expect.

Fighting the case on behalf of Ashers cost the Christian Institute, a deeply homophobic group, £200,000.

Had the cake actually been created it would have cost just £36.50.

The BBC’s legal correspondent Clive Coleman, observed:

Some will regard the ruling – that service providers of any religion, race or sexual orientation can refuse to endorse a message they profoundly disagree with – as a victory for freedom of expression and freedom of ideas.

The ruling now poses the question whether it would be lawful, for instance, for a bakery to refuse to make a bar mitzvah cake because the bakers’ owners disagreed with ideas at the heart of the Jewish religion? What about a cake promoting ‘the glory of Brexit’, ‘support fox hunting’, or ‘support veganism’?

As a result of Wednesday’s ruling, there are likely to be further cases in which services are refused on the basis of beliefs held by the service providers.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn

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  • Snagglefritz Sagenschnitter

    A nice new car for the lawyer plus a couple of vintage ports added to the wine cellar. Brilliant. That’s what protesting is all about.

  • DanD

    This is where I come down on it as a free speech fan. It must not matter who requests the cake, but the message on the cake is a different matter. This is why any baker can refuse to make a cake with a swastika on it.

  • epeeist

    Yep, this was a foolish case in that Gareth Lee was trying to get them to bake a cake with the slogan “support gay marriage” on it, he was obviously not being discriminated against on the grounds of his sexuality.

    Now if two men or two women had asked for a cake for their wedding or civil partnership and been refused then this would have been a different matter.

  • Tony Kerbey

    Whilst I understand the technical legal argument the objection to the cake’s message is almost certainly driven by personal prejudice and it is the succour it will provide to religious zealots and homophobes that worries me. It seems that only sentiments against Christian teaching are unbakeable, would they let me have a, ‘Buddah’s a Bastard’ cake?

  • Götterdämmerung

    Now all the religious bigots will be emboldened by this ruling believing they are safe from being discriminatory. And, I bet the odious Michenello-Williams and her band of hate filled zealots are crowing over this rare win for them.

  • Madgerbil

    I’d like to suggest that the grounds for refusing a service would be compliance with the law on Hate Speech (admittedly there is a separate conversation to be had on what that constitutes or should constitute) and the vendor also applying internal policies – such as a decision to not accept messages of a political nature – on an equal basis.

    After that, if you are operating in the public domain, then serve the public equally. In my view the Supreme Court missed a chance to support free speech.

  • Broga

    With Trump praising the appointment of a judge who would be morally unsuitable as a rat catcher anywhere execpt Trump’s USA what else can be expected. The USA is heading for a crash, China is now the world leader on the environment and the USA is denying climate change. Meanwhile, Florida is devastated by the hurricane and the Trump religious fools howl with delight when their feckless President says he is going to Florida to see for himself. I have to assume that Trump supporters are semi-literates (that is a generous assessment) or they would read the books being published about their man/child president.

  • DanD

    Realizing that I’m speaking from a position of privilege, but I’m not a fan of hate speech restrictions. The difference between, for instance, preventing hate speech based on religion, and enforcing blasphemy laws against atheists is too narrow. Besides, all restrictions do is drive the use of dog whistles and inneuendo in public. There’s an advantage to having the dangerous ones identify themselves.

    As long as any restrictions are based on what the customer wants, not who the customer is, I consider that to fall within the realm of adequate public accommodation.

  • barriejohn

    They’re bigots. Can you imagine the reaction had they refused to bake a cake with the slogan “Black Lives Matter”?

  • What I really find amazing are the monies spent to get that veredict instead of, say, given to a charity.

  • Raging Bee

    I get a feeling that will happen soon enough…