Christian bakers win 'gay cake' battle at Supreme Court

Blanche Robertson
October 11, 2018

One of the most striking aspects of this case is that two courts in Northern Ireland have been overruled by the Supreme Court in London.

After fours years of duking it out in the courts, the U.K. Supreme Court has now ruled on the side of Ashers Bakery. "I am glad the court upheld this important liberal principle".

The judges, he said, found that the "objection was to the message and not to any particular person or persons".

Ashers Bakery is named after Asher, one of the 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. The United Kingdom has a long and proud tradition of free speech and today's ruling is a resounding reassertion of that tradition. "This court has held that 'nobody should be forced to have or express a political opinion in which he does not believe".

"The court recognized that this case was about declining to support a particular message, not declining to serve a particular customer".

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". In May 2014, Lee requested a cake featuring the Sesame Street characters Ernie and Bert and the motto "Support Gay Marriage". "We do not have the same rights in Northern Ireland as gay people as we do in the rest of the United Kingdom", he said.

Gay rights activist Gareth Lee ordered the cake for a private party marking the end of Northern Ireland's anti-homophobia week.

But the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission for Northern Ireland launched a civil action against the family-run bakery, claiming its actions violated Northern Ireland's equality laws. The owners argued they couldn't put messages on their products at odds with their Christian beliefs.

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A lower court judge, Isobel Brownlie, had found that Ashers had broken discrimination laws by refusing to prepare the cake.

"The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and the judicial committee of the privy council here, have held it to be an interference with this right to oblige, in case, non-believers to swear a Christian oath as a condition of remaining a member of parliament, and in the other case to oblige a Muslim soldier to remain present and doff his cap during Christian prayers at ceremonial parades and at morning and evening colorus".

He said the "issue of political and religious discrimination is direct" and the ramifications are "potentially enormous".

"I want to start by thanking God".

So there was no discrimination on the grounds of Mr Lee's sexual orientation.

"It prevents compelled speech and the court was very clear that people of every description, of every protected characteristic, should continue to be protected from discrimination, but that's not what was happening in this case".

"People of all sexual orientations - gay, straight or bisexual - can and do support gay marriage".

"As well as meaning that Asher's can not be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also means that gay bakers can not be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans", Mr Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said. "There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order", he wrote.

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