The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of the owners of a Northern Ireland bakery that refused to make a cake that read “Support Gay Marriage.” The owners of Ashers Bakery won their appeal after initially being found to have discriminated against Gareth Lee, an LGBTQ activist from Belfast.
The court’s decision was unanimous and found that the owners, who are Evangelical Christians, were not required to put the message on the cake.
Ashers had lost the original case and an appeal before Wednesday’s ruling by the Supreme Court. Lee, an activist with the LGBTQ group QueerSpace, had sued the company in 2014 for discrimination based on sexual orientation.
According to the court, in May of that year, Lee had gone to the bakery to order a cake featuring Bert and Ernie with the QueerSpace logo as well as the phrase “Support Gay Marriage.” The cake was intended for a gathering for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia. Northern Ireland does allow same-sex marriage.
The bakery took the original order and a few days later called Lee to inform him that they could not bake the cake because of their religious beliefs.
Lee was given a refund of the $40 dollars he paid for the cake. He eventually got a cake from a different bakery.
The ensuing legal battle has cost both parties upwards of around $660,000, the BBC reported.
The basis for the court’s decision relied on Ashers bakery’s objection being to the phrase to be put on the cake, “not any personal characteristics of the messenger [Lee].”
“This conclusion is not in any way to diminish the need to protect gay people and people who support gay marriage from discrimination,” Judge Brenda Hale, President of the Supreme Court, said when announcing the ruling.
“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,” Hale added.
In their decision, the High Court cited the United States Supreme Court decision of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado.
The British court stated, “The important message from the Masterpiece Cakeshop case is that there is a clear distinction between refusing to produce a cake conveying a particular message, for any customer who wants such a cake, and refusing to produce a cake for the particular customer who wants it because of that customer’s characteristics.”
It continued that the Belfast bakery “would have refused to supply this particular cake to anyone, whatever their personal characteristics.”
LGBTQ rights activists in Northern Ireland condemned the court’s decision. The Rainbow Project’s Director, John O’Doherty said in a statement that the group was disappointed with the ruling.
“Ashers agreed to make the cake. They entered into a contractual agreement to make this cake and then changed their mind,” O’Doherty said. “We believe this is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification.”
“We will, however, take time to study this judgment by the Supreme Court to understand fully its implications for the rights of LGBT people to access goods, facilities, and services without discrimination,” he continued.
Outside the courthouse, both parties spoke to reporters about the outcome of the appeal.
“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,” said Daniel McArthur, general manager of the family-run Ashers Bakery.
Lee said he felt like a second-class citizen. “I think this has consequences for everyone. Anyone can walk into a shop — you shouldn’t have to work out if you’re going to be served based on their religious beliefs. I am confused,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.
“To me, this was never about conscience or a statement. All I wanted to do was to order a cake in a shop,” Lee explained. “I’m concerned, not just for the implications for myself or other gay people, but for everyone single one of us. Do we have to guess when we go into a shop whether we’re going to be served or not?”
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