A ruling by the Supreme Court has seen a Belfast bakery win their appeal against claims that their refusal to print a message supporting gay marriage on a cake was unlawful.
Owners of Ashers Bakery, Mr and Mrs McArthur, had lost two previous cases on this matter, with the customer, Mr Lee, successfully arguing that their refusal to provide him with the cake as he requested represented both political and sexual orientation discrimination.
However, in their ruling the Supreme Court agreed that the bakers’ Christian beliefs justified their refusal to produce a cake iced with the message “support gay marriage” and that this refusal was in fact not discriminatory. For their part the McArthurs added that they had no issue with the customer himself due to his sexual orientation and would continue to serve him in the future.
This decision marks the end of a long running case which began as far back as 2014. Dubbed the ‘gay cake case’, this high profile dispute has garnered significant support from both The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the charity ‘The Christian institute’ who have offered their financial backing to Mr Lee and Mr and Mrs McArthur respectively.
Supreme Court President Lady Hale made the court’s feelings clear on this matter in her final judgement, stating that the bakers did not refuse to fulfil the order of Mr Lee because of his sexual orientation. Lady Hale stated “They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation”. Furthermore, Lady Hale added “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 grounds of the sexual orientation of Mr Lee”.
This case, although a Northern Irish case and not in the employment forum, could have potential consequences for other cases involving alleged sexual orientation discrimination, or the right to hold religious beliefs, in the workplace in Great Britain.
Specifically, this ruling raises questions over how employers can behave towards customers and whether certain actions can be deemed non-discriminatory on the basis of their own personal beliefs. On this occasion, the court has placed significant emphasis on the employer’s right to protect their own religious beliefs, which may lead to similar contentious cases in the future.