Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

'Gay cake': It was about the message, not a man

David Blevins interviews the bakers at the heart of the Northern Ireland gay cake controversy Image The cake supporting gay marriage was eventually made by another bakery
Pablo Mccormick | 11 October, 2018, 04:27

Ashers Baking in Belfast was found guilty of discrimination in 2015 for refusing to make a cake for a customer iced with the words "Support Gay Marriage" because of the owners' Christian beliefs.

After the bakery told him the cake would not be made, Mr Lee successfully sued for discrimination in Belfast and won a subsequent court of appeal ruling.

Daniel and Amy McArthur, the young married couple who run Ashers, argued that they had not turned down the order because of the customer but because of the message itself.

LGBT activist Gareth Lee came into the bakery and requested a custom cake depicting Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street with the motto "Support Gay Marriage".

The important message from the Masterpiece Bakery 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.

"But that is not what happened in this case".

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The court also found that Mr Lee had no claim against Ashers on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion, holding that no-one should be "forced to have or express a political opinion in which he does not believe".

Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist who had ordered the cake, said in reaction to Wednesday's ruling that he was a "a second class citizen" in Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is not allowed.

"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", McArthur said.

It then called back two days later to explain that it could not top the cake with the icing featuring the muppets and the marriage slogan.

Freedom of expression, as guaranteed by article 10 of the European convention on human rights, includes the right "not to express an opinion which one does not hold", according to Brenda Hale, president of the Supreme Court. "I'm concerned that this has implications for myself and for every single person".

The court said the situation was more akin to a Christian printing business being required to print leaflets promoting an atheist message.

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Gay marriage is still illegal in Northern Ireland, despite passing in the Assembly. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith and sexuality.

"Accordingly, this court holds that there was no discrimination on the ground of the sexual orientation of Mr Lee", Lady Hale ruled.

"The name of the bakery comes from a verse in the Book of Genesis which my father read when he was about 15", Daniel McArthur told the Belfast Telegraph in 2016.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which supported Lee's case, expressed its disappointment.

The case received support from the Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland's largest support organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

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