The Supreme Court has today ruled that the owners of a bakery who refused to make a cake supporting gay marriage did not discriminate against a customer on grounds of sexual orientation.
The owners of Belfast-based Ashers Baking Company, Daniel and Amy McArthur, told activist Gareth Lee they would not make the cake which featured Sesame Street puppets, Ernie & Bert along with the logo of LGBT+ campaign group Queerspace.
In the first court hearing, District Judge Brownlie ruled that religious beliefs could not dictate the law and ordered the firm to pay damages of £500.
Since then the christian couple have appealed the decision and today Supreme Court president Lady Hale said, " that the appellants did not refuse to fulfil Mr Lee’s order because of his actual or perceived sexual orientation. The objection was to the message on the cake, not any personal characteristics of the messenger, or anyone with whom he was associated. The message was not indissociable from the sexual orientation of the customer, as support for gay marriage was not a proxy for any particular sexual orientation. The benefit of the message accrues not only to gay or bisexual people, but to their families and friends and to the wider community who recognise the social benefits which such commitment can bring. Thus, there was no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in this case."
Lady Hale went on to say the ruling was not in any way to take away from the need to protect gay people and people who support same sex marriage from discrimination.
Dr. Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland said, “There is a concern that this judgment may raise uncertainty about the application of equality law in the commercial sphere, both about what businesses can do and what customers may expect; and that the beliefs of business owners may take precedence over a customer’s equality rights, which in our view is contrary to what the legislature intended.”
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