The Gay Cake Case

The Gay Cake Case, also technically (and correctly) known as Lee (Respondent) v Ashers Baking Company Ltd and others (Appellants) (Northern Ireland).

A final (and unanimous) decision was reached by The Supreme Court in London on 10th October 2018. The court found for the bakers Ashers.

The bakers had refused to produce a cake for Mr Lee with the message “support gay marriage”. Mr Lee had previously ordered cakes from Ashers, (but without this message). Ashers took the order, but then subsequently refused the order, due to their committed Christian beliefs.

The cake then became a case – Mr Lee supported by The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland brought a claim for direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religious belief or political opinion.

Mr Lee won the first round, Ashers then appealed and lost on appeal. The Attorney General for Northern Ireland then referred the case to The Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court found that Mr & Mrs McArthur, the owners of Ashers did not discriminate against Mr Lee personally – they objected to the message because it was contrary to their religious beliefs – which can also be protected. As the court stated, “The less favourable treatment was afforded to the message, not to the man.”

This has proved to be a very expensive cake.

We would argue that the facts of this case a fairly unique and the judgment is actually quite limited in scope.

The argument now goes that discrimination because of your religious beliefs is ok. No, it is not. Mr Lee was not discriminated against; the objection was to the message.

It should also be remembered that religious beliefs still have a significant hold on society in Northern Ireland – this is partly for political reasons. Northern Ireland is also behind the mainland UK regarding gay marriage and equality, and will probably remain out of step for quite some time.

We would argue that if this case was brought by parties in another part of the UK, the decision may, (but only may) have been different.

The bottom line is that if as a business you offer a service be prepared for it to be used in different ways. The way to run a business is to provide the same service to everyone.

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