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.
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