‘Gay cake’ Supreme Court decision: Ashers bakery did not discriminate against LGBT advocate
The Supreme Court has ruled that Ashers Baking Company was not guilty of discrimination in refusing to bake a pro-gay marriage cake.
The decision was read on Wednesday (October 10) in London, the latest chapter in a more than four-year-old dispute that started when Gareth Lee, a LGBT+ advocate with Queer Space, paid the Northern Ireland-based bakery to make a cake to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
“The bakers’ objection was to the message and not to the man,” President of the Supreme Court Lady Hale said, reading the judgement.
The ruling considered the claim of discrimination on three grounds—sexual orientation, political beliefs, and impact of European Convention of Human Rights—and found that the bakery was within its right to refuse Lee.
“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 or any of the other protected personal characteristics. But that is not what happened in this case,” Lady Hale said.
In its judgement, the court also referenced the US Supreme Court decision in the Masterpiece Bakery case, which cleared the baker of refusing to serve a gay couple.
The British court noted the differences in the two cases, writing: “The bakery would have refused to supply this particular cake to anyone, whatever their personal characteristics.”
“So there was no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. If and to the extent that there was discrimination on grounds of political opinion, no justification has been shown for the compelled speech which would be entailed for imposing civil liability for refusing to fulfil the order,” the court added.
The Ashers Baking Company, owned by the McArthur family, refused to bake a cake showing the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie citing religious values.
Lee took the bakery to court in Belfast alleging violation of the Equality Act (2010), saying the bakery’s refusal made him “feel like a lesser person.” The bakery was found guilty of discrimination based on sexual orientation and political or religious grounds in 2015.
Ashers Baking Company appealed the decision, which was dismissed a year later. But the bakery insisted on fighting the initial conviction, considering taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights, and eventually announcing in 2017 it would appeal to the UK Supreme Court.
The prolonged court case became a symbolic battleground for LGBT+ rights and marriage equality in Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom which has not legalised same-sex marriage. LGBT+ couples can enter a civil partnership instead.